Tag Archives: artists

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

 

Letters to Dead Artists – Weekly Round Up…A-Z Challenge

Well, like anyone who is taking part in the A to Z April Blogging Challenge, there’s a real sense of relief when you’ve made it through another week and you’re still on track. Indeed, I thought it deserve a swing from the chandelier, which is why I’m currently looking like Monet’s portrait of his beloved Camille on her deathbed mummified head to toe in plaster. Why didn’t Sia warn that swinging from the chandelier can lead to broken bones? We should all wrap ourselves up in bubble wrap and just stay put on terra firma.

I was trying to think about which week we were up to because this whole insane experience of trying to research and write to 26 dead artists in a month is totally insane, especially when it usually takes me that long just to work out the list and decide who to write to. It seems that procrastination is a luxury on this challenge and a decision, any decision, is better than getting behind schedule.

Although I decided to limit myself to one artist per letter this year, I did add a detour in this weekend. That was to visit Monet’s Garden. I’d realized that most of the artists I’d chosen were fairly intense, and so I thought we’d go and spend a day at Giverny with Monet among his water lilies and flowers and given the peaceful serenity in his paintings, I thought Monet would be a fairly chilled character, and was completely unprepared for the heartbreak he endured and extreme poverty in his early days as an artist, not to mention the ridicule he received as an Impressionist. So, as it turned out, spending time with Monet, wasn’t just a walk in the park.

Here are my posts for this week:

N- Sidney Nolan

O- Georgia O’Keeffe

P- Pablo Picasso

Q- Queenie McKenzie

R-Auguste Rodin

S-Salvador Dali

Why We need Monet’s Garden

Monet’s Greatest Work.

Here are the links to previous weeks’ letters:

Here’s a link to last week’s letters:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

H- Hans Heysen

I- Isabel Bishop

J- Jackson Pollock

K- Wassily Kandinsky

L: Norman Lindsay

M- Edvard Munch

How are you finding the A-Z either as a participant, reader or both? Hope it’s going well.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

A-Z Weekly Round up…Letters to Dead Artists.

Welcome to Sunday, which is a day of rest in A-Z realms. Well, that is, if you’re not like me and somehow managed to mix N up with M and I ended up posting a letter to Sidney Nolan two days early, and to Edvard Munch, a day late. I think this is an alarm bell telling me I’ve taken on too much again this year and that I should heed some of the examples of my artists and not push myself too far. After all, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Munch shot off a finger, and I’m sure these two are just the tip of an expansive iceberg of troubled artists.
Thank fully, I have nothing to worry about. I’m a writer, not an artist.

Here’s a link to last week’s letters:

H- Hans Heysen

I- Isabel Bishop

J- Jackson Pollock

K- Wassily Kandinsky

L: Norman Lindsay

M- Edvard Munch

By the way, in case you missed any of the first week’s letters, here they are:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

Are you taking part in the A-Z Challenge this year? If so, please leave a link in the comments below and good luck. I think we’ve just passed half way, but I had prepared much of these before the challenge started, so I’m really needing to pump up the volume of research and writing, when it feels like I’ve blown up quite a few brain cells in the first two weeks. My kids also start two weeks of school holidays tomorrow. While they’re now 14 and 12 and more independent, I know I won’t be able to lock myself away for the next two weeks. I wouldn’t want to either. So, instead, I’ll be splitting the atom (or should I say myself) for the next two weeks.

I think I’m hearing something about fools step in where angels fear to thread…Rome wasn’t built in a day…and yet we have to try it, have a go, don’t we!!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

K-Kandinsky- Letters to Dead Arts…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome Back to my A-Z Series: Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ve written to Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky, one of the driving forces behind German Expressionism. Kandinsky will be accompanied by Arnold Schoenberg’s  Transfigured Night for String Quartet. Schoenberg and Kandinsky worked closely together and were very like-minded.

When I very first saw Kandinsky’s paintings in a German Expressionist Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1990, all I saw was COLOUR!!! Bright colours and expressive forms. They were such a break from all the paintings I’d known growing up, with the dull greens and browns of the Australian landscape populated, as it were, by swagmen and sheep.

However, Kandinsky wasn’t just a man of bright, alluring colours and interior design. Rather through his book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he expounded an entire theory about the emotions and spirituality of colour and devised a complex code of colours and symbols, which were also closely intertwined with music.

Wassily_Kandinsky,_1911,_Reiter_(Lyrishes),_oil_on_canvas,_94_x_130_cm,_Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen

 

When I saw the German Expressionist Exhibition, I was a 20 year old university student living in a crumbling terrace house in urban Glebe. Caught in all the lurid emotions of semi-requited love and paralyzing self-doubt, I was a living, breathing powder keg of angst. Indeed, I went to the exhibition with the source… someone I’ll simply call “Sunflower”.

As that paralyzed, love struck young woman, these paintings weren’t just something on the wall. They were ME spurting through the canvas wrestling with love, rejection and hope against all hope. I guess you could say this was a “turbulent period” for me, where I gouged my torment out with my pen, scrawling ink across the page. I then released my inner demons at poetry readings at Chippendale’s Reasonably Good Cafe, which I now consider fun.

As it turns out, there would’ve been better artists for a young woman struggling with semi-requited love to turn to, such as Gabriele Münter. She would’ve been very sympathetic, and could well have made me chicken soup. Indeed, I can even hear her reflecting on her relationship with Kandinsky…“He’s not the Messiah. He’s just a very naughty boy.” (Life of Brian).

Munter_SelfPortrait1909

Gabriele Munter – Self Portrait in front of an Easel, 1909 at Princeton Art Museum, Princeton NJ

Kandinsky’s personal life was rather complicated. In 1892, he married his cousin, Anna Chemyakina. She took care of her husband and moved with him to Germany. However, in 1903 Kandinsky met and began a relationship with Gabriele Münter, one of his students at the Phalanx School. The two became inseparable. Kandinsky kept promising to divorce his wife and marry her, stringing love struck Münter along. Finally, in 1911, Kandinsky returned to Russia, and divorced his wife.

Yet, he still didn’t marry Gabriele Münter. Rather, he continued living with her as his lover. Unfortunately, when Germany declared war on Russia in August 1914, their relationship received a jolt. Kandinsky was considered an enemy alien and only had three days to get out. Since he couldn’t take much with him, he left the bulk of his paintings and possessions with Münter. The couple rushed to Switzerland and while in Zurich, Kandinsky broke up with her. For two years she urged a reunion. It took place in neutral Scandinavia in 1916, but failed. Well, that’s according to some of the sources I’ve read. Others are less clear about the breakup, suggesting he was still stringing her along.

Well, Kandinsky did get married, but it wasn’t to Gabriele Münter. Rather, he married 18 year old, Nina Andreievskaya, and he didn’t tell Münter. Indeed, he only came clean four years later when she received a letter from his lawyer demanding she return his personal effects and artworks. Not unsurprisingly, Gabriele didn’t return all his paintings, and kept these as “moral compensation”. While I’m very surprised Gabriel didn’t burn the lot, she actually kept them safe behind a secret wall in her basement during successive raids by the Nazis and Russians. Kandinsky never saw his paintings again. However, in 1957, Münter gave the stash to Munich, Stadtische Galerie in Lenbach. At least, the survival of this collection was a positive outcome of Gabriele’s grief.

Perhaps, there’s nothing about Kandinsky which is easy to understand. Indeed, for me, he’s an iceberg with only his head peering out above the waves. I even wonder whether he remains a mystery to experts who have studied him all their working lives, and know each and every millimetre of each work. I don’t know. Yet, despite the difficulties and also thanks to a sense of madness, I am still trying to fathom the unfathomable. Trying to unravel Kandinsky and his art.

POrtrait Kandinsky

So Who Was Wassily Kandinsky?

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in Moscow on the 4th December, 1866, the son of a wealthy tea merchant. He spent his childhood in Odessa, where he graduated from the Grekov Odessa Art school and enrolled at the University of Moscow, where he studied law and economics and was offered a professorship.

However, in 1896 at the age of thirty, Kandinsky and his trajectory permanently  changed.  Struck in a sense by lightning, he threw in his day job to become a professional    artist.

This was fueled by two events:

Firstly,he attended an Exhibition of French Impressionists in St Petersberg in 1896, where he was spellbound by Claude Monet’s painting: Haystacks in the Sunlight:

“So, I saw a painting for the first time. That it was a haystack the catalogue informed me. I could not recognize it. This non-recognition was painful to me. I considered that the painter had no right to paint indistinctly. I felt that the object of the painting was missing. And I noticed with surprise and confusion that the picture not only gripped me, but impressed itself ineradicably on my memory. Painting took on a fairy-tale power and splendour”.

Also in 1896, he attended Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin at the court (Bolshoi) Theatre in Moscow, which seemingly unleashed a moment of synesthetic apotheosis “which appeared to be the materialization of my fairytale Moscow. Violins, deep basses and wind instruments in the first place materialized my impression of evening hours in Moscow, I saw all the colours before my eyes – crazy, almost insane lines. I just could not admit that Wagner musically drew “my hour”. But I realized that art has much more power than I used to think about it and painting can have the same powers, as music”.

Music influenced Kandinsky’s art profoundly: he admired the way it could elicit an emotional response, without being tied to a recognisable subject matter. Painting, he believed, should aspire to be as abstract as music, with groups of colour in a picture relating to one another in a manner analogous to sequences of chords in music.

Kandinsky moved to Munich with his wife and studied at Anton Ažbe‘s private school and then at the Academy of Fine Arts.  It was here, that Kandinsky formed some artistic associations, which were to change the face of modern art. At Azbe’s school he met co-conspirators such as Alexei Jawlensky, who introduced Kandinsky to Munich’s artistic avant-garde. In 1901, along with three other young artists, Kandinsky co-founded “Phalanx” – an artist’s association opposed to the conservative views of the traditional art institutions. Phalanx expanded to include an art school, in which Kandinsky taught, and an exhibitions group.

In 1909, he was one of the founding members of Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (NKVM, or New Artists Association of Munich), a group that sought to accommodate the avant-garde artists whose practices were too radical for the traditional organizations and academies. In 1911, after one of Kandinsky’s paintings was rejected from the annual NKVM exhibition, he and Franz Marc organized a rival exhibition and co-founded “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider).

“Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider) initiated and deeply inspired the highly influential German Expressionist style. It was a loose association of nine Expressionist artists that included August Macke, Münter, and Jawlensky. As a group, they believed in the promotion of modern art and the possibility for spiritual experience through the symbolic associations of sound and colour – two issues very near and dear to Kandinsky’s heart. Despite the similarities between the group’s moniker and the title of Kandinsky’s 1903 painting, the artists actually arrived at the name “Der Blaue Reiter” as a result of the combination of Marc’s love of horses and Kandinsky’s interest in the symbolism of the rider, coupled with both artists’ passion for the colour blue. During their short existence, the group published an anthology (The Blue Rider Almanac) and held three exhibitions. Kandinsky also published Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911), his first theoretical treatise on abstraction. It expounded that his theory that the artist was a spiritual being who communicated through and was affected by line, colour, and composition. He produced both abstract and figurative works, but expanded his interest in non-objective painting. Composition VII (1913) was an early example of his synthesis of spiritual, emotional, and non-referential form through complex patterns and brilliant colors. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 led to the dissolution of the group.

Kandinsky returned to Moscow in 1914. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky “became an insider in the cultural administration of Anatoly Lunacharsky”and helped establish the Museum of the Culture of Painting.However, by then “his spiritual outlook… was foreign to the argumentative materialism of Soviet society”[4], and opportunities beckoned in Germany, to which he returned in 1920. There, he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture from 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France, where he lived for the rest of his life, becoming a French citizen in 1939 and producing some of his most prominent art.

He died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.

So, without further ado, I’m off to write to Kandinsky and I promised myself that I wouldn’t mention his love life. Instead, I’m going to play it safe and stick to art and music.

A Letter to Kandinsky

Dear Kandinsky,

I’m burning the midnight oil trying to find the right words and my pen is stuttering away like the love struck uni student of days gone by. I’ve gone through sheet after sheet of paper, trying to find the right words and finally put together some kind of meaningful question to ask.

So, I’ll cut to the chase.

Could you please paint me playing my violin?

I know that’s a big ask when you’re world famous, and I pass right under all forms of radar. However, the world also needs to acknowledge the full scope of musicians, and not only honour those at the very pinnacle of success. Kandinsky, people forget that music doesn’t just refer to the maestros playing million dollar instruments. It also includes the beginners…the scratchy violinists, the annoying recorder players, the tone deaf, as well as the rhythmically challenged. Someone needs to represent the musical battler, and it might as well be me.

Of course, I can’t help wondering how my playing would affect your vision, and the corresponding relationship between colour and sound. Would you still paint my violin a relaxing tone of green? Or, would it all be reds, oranges, yellows? Maybe, somewhere in between?

Speaking about musical battlers, last weekend, I spotted this decrepit, dilapidated piano at the Scout Hall and I just had to play Moonlight Sonata on it. Moreover, I even asked my husband to record it. It sounded so bad, that it hurt your ears and we dubbed it: “The Sorry Sonata”…even “The Suicide Sonata”. Ironically, I usually play Moonlight Sonata on a Steinway Grand, but who hasn’t experienced the horrific twang of an old hall piano?  Well, I guess that’s changing because the piano is dying and you might be shocked to know that you can’t even give one away.

Anyway, why am I talking to you about pianos, when I wanted to talk about painting violins?

Getting back to my question, could please paint me playing my violin. It would really make me smile.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Kandinsky

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. Jackson Pollock had insisted I’d be next, but you never can be sure. There must be plenty of other artists who you admire starting with K.

Nothing would delight me more than painting you playing your violin. However, I should warn you that I’ve developed a new minimalist style where nothing actually goes on the page. I know that sounds very much like Hans Christian Andersen’s classic: The Emperor’s New Clothes. However, please trust me. It’s been liberating…just like painting nude. John Lennon got me into that.

Let’s make a time.

Best wishes,

Kandinsky

Featured Image: Composition VII 1913– The State Tretyakov Gallery

References & Further Reading

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

http://www.artcenterinformation.com/2012/08/who-and-what-inspired-wassily-kandinsky/

http://viola.bz/wassily-kandinsky-and-his-women/

https://www.moma.org/documents/moma_catalogue_448_300063127.pdf

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/kandinsky-path-abstraction/kandinsky-path-abstraction-room-guide

Kandinsky,  “Steps”  an autobiographic novella

 

 

Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge.

Phew! I somehow made it through the first week of the A-Z Challenge. As you may be aware, my theme for 2018 is: Letters to Dead Artists. This is a sequel to my 2016 theme: Letters to Dead Poets. This was inspired by the tradition of leaving letters on the graves of dead writers, musicians, artists in Paris’s Pere La Chaisse Cemetery which I visited with a group of friends in 1992 as a 22 year old Australian backpacker. We’d all just finished university and I was taking a year off to meander around Europe.

Much of the time, I lived with a family in Heidelberg Germany  who literally took me in off the street. This time in Europe forms the backbone of this series as I did something of an art museum crawl from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, to the Alte National Gallerie in Berlin; the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin in Paris, the Uffizi and Accadmia Gallerie in Florence and the British Museum in London. There might’ve been more but that was over 25 years ago.

By the way, I should also mention that my History Honours thesis looked at the arrival of modernist art and literature in Australia and how it clashed with the established cultural elites and efforts to establish and maintain a uniquely Australian culture, which was associated with the bush at the time.

We don’t often have the luxury of reflecting back on the great minds which have influenced us, and helped to make us who we are. In addition to the minds, are the compassionate hearts who’ve taken us in when we’ve been engulfed by the vortex or haunted by horrific memories and nightmares which we can’t really put into words to share with our nearest and dearest. We need a hand and I swear some of these artists, especially Van Gogh, have swept me up and carried me in their arms through hard times and cried my tears.

Another factor influencing this series, is my undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. I was 27 years old when my neurologist finally discovered the harbour in my head, which was putting incredible pressure on just about every part of my brain. Even my sight was affected, as the pressure built up behind my eyes causing nystagmus. Despite this harbour in my head, I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History. I spent nine months overseas, although I was very troubled much of the time. I also wrote well and used to do performance poetry. I read at a number of events in Sydney, but the climax was doing a solo reading at the famous Shakespeare Bookshop where the likes of Hemingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin hung out in Paris. Indeed, its proprietor, George Whitman, was a character in his own right. However, by 1995, the hydrocephalus was starting to break its banks and a year later, the ground moved up and down as I walked, I was falling over a lot and my short term memory was shot. It was a huge descent straight into the abyss, especially for someone who’d always valued their brain. Was a thinker. It was a grief that had no sides, and yet my medical report promised a “full recovery”. It just took time.

In typical fashion, my thoughts have gone off on a bit of a wander. However, you stare deeply into Starry Night, Venus de Milo, the Little Dancer, On the Wallaby Track or The Harbour Bridge in Curve, and you’ll be seeing more than sunflowers.

Anyway, here’s a list of last week’s letters:

A- Alexandros of Antioch

B- Sandro Botticelli

C- Grace Cossington Smith

D-Edgar Degas

E- Eileen Agar

F- Frederick McCubbin

G- Vincent Van Gogh

When I spotted a world map printed on a cork board, a decided to plot where the artists were born and connect them with ythread of red wool, representing the Red Thread of Fate or Pinyan. Chinese mythology has it that the gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. Often, in Japanese and Korean culture, it is thought to be tied around the little finger. According to Chinese legend, the deity in charge of “the red thread” is believed to be Yuè Xià Lǎorén (月下老人), often abbreviated to Yuè Lǎo (月老), the old lunar matchmaker god, who is in charge of marriages. The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break. This myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmate or a destined flame.

So, this red thread is now drawing this disparate group of artists from across the world, through different times in history together and who knows what will emerge from that incredible crucible. I can’t wait to reach Z, let the dust settle and see what emerges.

I apologize in advance that these are length posts. However, as you could imagine, mowing down such Everists into a few paragraphs would be a daunting task for experts, let alone a minnow like myself. However, sometimes it takes a minnow to to go where big fish fear to tread.

I hope you enjoy this emerging series.

Here are a couple of links which stood out to me on my travels:

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Series

Movie: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh Visits the Gallery | Vincent And The Doctor – YouTube

Dear Vincent – a novel by Mandy Hager (loved it!!)

I hope you learn as much as I am from this series and perhaps consider some of the artists, great and small, who have inspired you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018.

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

Welcome to Letters to Dead Artists, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Blogging Challenge. Every day except for Sunday during April, I’ll be writing a letter to a dead artist who has inspired me at some point throughout my life. There will also be a few “newbies” added to comply with the requirements of the challenge. I’ve also had to cut many artists out, because this year I decided there would only be one artist for each letter. So, choosing my 26 artists has been quite a process…a quest in itself.

The original inspiration for this theme came when I dug up a letter a friend sent me from Paris in August, 1992. Only a week or so before, a group of us had walked through Paris’s Père Lachaise Cemetery, where we had a particular interest in Jimmy Morrison’s grave. She’d returned a few weeks later and found a handwritten letter addressed to Oscar Wilde near his grave and transcribed it. It quoted excerpts from the preface of A Portrait of Dorien Gray:

The Preface

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.

To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.

The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.

The highest, as the lowest, form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.

Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.

They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

In August 1992, I’d given my own solo reading at the famed Shakespeare Bookshop, where the likes of Ernest Hemmingway, Henry Miller and Anais Nin used to hang out. In hindsight, being granted my own solo performance at the Shakespeare as a 23 year old Australian, was a miracle. However, I didn’t know that at the time. George Whitman simply asked me if I’d been published (yes- self-published 90’s style on a photocopier) and told me to draw up a poster, which was displayed in the front window of the bookshop. That was “publicity”. George Whitman might’ve put me through the wringer, but he did give me a chance.

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

Jonathan Swift

Revisiting these experiences in Paris, Letters to Dead Poets was my theme for the 2016 A-Z Challenge. I’d clearly bitten off too much for what’s intended to be a quick walk through the park, not a series of books. However, I loved researching and writing the series, which ended up taking on a creative force all of its own, and I was very pleased with the end result. Hence, I decided to follow it up with Letters to Dead Artists, which will be very much along much the same lines.

To maintain the suspense, I’ve decided not to provide an index of all the featured artists I’ll be covering. The plan is to focus on one particular work from each artist and to discuss how it’s touched me personally. Then, via the letter, I’ll ask each artist a question. There will be some bio information for each artist, but as I’m neither an artist nor a critic, there’ll be scant technical detail. Rather, this series will be about emotion, psychology, philosophy and history instead.

“The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”

Pablo Picasso

Degas Letters

Naturally, I’m well into researching and preparing these letters. From the outset, I’ve been struck by how little I knew about each artist and their respective works. That I have known the painting well as an image, but often not the inspiration behind it, which in some instances has given the work an entirely different meaning. In a sense that doesn’t matter. However, for me, once you start seeing that painting as a reflection of your soul, it does. So, now I’m a bit unsure about all this deconstruction and analysis has been a good thing. Or, whether ignorance is bliss. After all, once you pull something apart, it’s very hard to get it back together again. Indeed, with all these intellectual twists and turns, I started to feel like I’d flown into a spider’s web. Hopefully, as the research settles, I’ll be able to clear a path. Find my way out. Yet, I have no doubt that I’ll be a very different me at the end of the month.

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Henry David Thoreau

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. So please fire up the engine as we head to A…Alexandros of Antioch who reputedly created the Venus de Milo.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Theme Reveal…Blogging A-Z Challenge.

On April 1st, the 2018 Blogging A-Z Challenge launches and with it, I shut off from the real world and immerse myself in yet another uber-ambitious theme. Something that not only requires a lot of research, but also having my thinking cap switched onto “Genius”,. This could be dangerous. Two years ago, when my theme was “Letters To Dead Poets”, my brain went into overdrive. Steam and sparks were flying out my ears. My circuits blew up. By the end of the month,  I was a zombie staring blankly at an empty screen. So, to prevent an all-systems collapse, I’m trying to get as much down before it starts.

If I was being true to myself, my theme would be “Ways of Procrastinating” using all 26 letters of the alphabet. After all, this weekend alone, I have:

  1. Bought new stationery for the challenge.
  2. I also bought a cork board with a world map printed onto it so I can pin the relevant places and link them up with red string as we go.
  3. I’ve cleaned my desk, including my desk drawers and vacated a drawer especially for my April Challenge material.
  4. Last night, I watched a couple of old movies…The Jackal and Play Misty For Me.
  5. Today, I took my daughter shopping to spend her birthday money.
  6. I also took the dog for a walk…another proven procrastination strategy.

However, that ISN’T my theme for 2018.

Rather, following on from the success of Letters to Dead Poets, this time I’ll be writing…

Letter-from-Vincent-van-G-001

Letters to Dead Artists!

For those of you who aren’t aware, I’m Australian and so I’ll be featuring a number of Australian Artists you might not have heard of, but art is universal. However, I have diverse tastes and I’ve managed to include an artist from all five inhabited continents.

“A picture is a poem without words.”

Horace

I’m not going to ruin the suspense by listing all the artists now. However, the point of this series is that I’ll be writing to artists who have impacted on me personally and where there’s some kind of history, memories, a story. These stories revisit 9 months I backpacked through Europe in 1992, travels through Australia and also my undergraduate History Honours thesis: The Cult of Ugliness The Modernist Threat to the Bush Legend.

“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.”

Winston Churchill

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

So, stay tuned for the launch on April 1st and I hope you’ll also share some of your thoughts and passions about these artists in the comments.

Wish me luck!

xx Rowena