Frida Kahlo: Cartas Apasionadas (The Letters of …)

Σάββατο, 17 Δεκεμβρίου, 2011

Today I travel to Mexico, to join the Great Mexican Painter Frida Kahlo. My aircraft is Martha Zamora’s compilation of Frida Kahlo’s letters, Cartas Apasionadas, published in 1995 by Chronicle Books in San Francisco, USA.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

The painter was born in 1907 in Coyoacan, a borough of the Federal District of Mexico City as Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón.

Frida Kahlo with drawn tears - Photo by Guillermo Kahlo, 1932

I started painting twelve years ago while I was recovering from an automobile accident that kept me in bed for nearly a year. In all these years, I’ve always worked with the spontaneous impulse of my feeling. I’ve never followed any school or anybody’s influence; I have never expected anything from my work but the satisfaction I could get from it by the very fact of painting and saying what I couldn’t say otherwise. (Letter to Carlos Chavez, 1939).

Frida Kahlo: Autorretrato con Collar de Espinas y Colibrí" ("Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Humming-bird").

In 1925 Frida has a horrible accident while riding a bus.

The only good thing is that I’m starting to get used to suffering. (Letter to Alejandro Gomez Arias, December 5, 1925).

Frida Kahlo: Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931

A short while ago, maybe a few days ago, I was a girl walking in a world of colors, of clear and tangible shapes. .. If you knew how terrible it is to attain knowledge all of a sudden – like lightning elucidating the earth! Now I live on a painful planet, transparent as ice…I grew old in a few instants and now everything is dull and flat. I know there is nothing behind; if there were something I would see it. (Letter to Alejandro Gomez Arias, September 1926).

Diego Rivera: Man masters the Elements

In 1929 Frida got married to the Mexican painter Diego Rivera. Their marriage hits the rocks quickly, as Diego is irreversibly unfaithfull. In 1934 Diego has an affair with Frida’s sister, Cristina. Frida is devastated.

Frida Kahlo - Photo by Nickolas Muray

First, it is a double disgrace, if I can explain it like that. You know better than anyone what Diego means to me in all senses, and on the other hand, she was the sister whom I loved the most and whom I tried to help as much as I could; that’s why the situation became horribly complicated and it is getting worse every day… My situation seems so ridiculous and stupid to me that you can’t imagine how I dislike and hate myself. I’ve lost my best years being supported by a man, doing nothing but what I thought would benefit and help him. I never thought about myself, and after six years, his answer is that fidelity is a bourgeois virtue and that it exists only to exploit (people) and to obtain an economic gain. (Letter to Ella and Bertram Wolfe, October 18, 1934).

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mask from Mexico

Even if we experience endless adventures, cracks in the doors, “mentions” of our mothers (the mentioning of one’s mother is considered to be very insulting in Mexico), and international complaints, don’t we always love each other? … All this anger has simply made me understand better that I love you more than my own skin, and that even though you don’t love me as much, you love me a little anyway – don’t you? If this is not true, I’ll always be hopeful that it could be, and that’s enough for me… Love me a little …. I adore you … Frieda (Letter to Diego Rivera, July 1935).

Frida Kahlo - Photo by Vicente Wolf

Diego has also been sick, but now he is almost well. He is working as usual, a lot and well. He is a little fatter; he is eating a lot and is as talkative as usual. He sleeps in the bathtub, reads the newspapers while on the toilet, and spends hours playing wiht Don Fulang Chang (pet monkey), for whom he already found a partner. (Letter to Ella Wolfe, 1938).

Diego Rivera: In the trenches - Photo by Tina Modotti)

Well child, let me thank you for your letter and for being so nice as to ask me about Diego’s shirts. I’m sorry for not being able to give you the sizes you asked for, but no matter how much I look inside the collar, I can’t even find a clue of what could be a number indicating the thickness of Don Diego Rivera y Barriento’s neck. So, I think it would be best to tell Martin to please buy six of the largest shirts that New York has, that is, if this letter gets to you in time, which I doubt very much. Get the kind (of shirts) that seem almost impossible to be made for a person, i.e the largest on this planet, commonly referred to as the Earth. (Letter to Ella Wolfe, 1938).

Frida Kahlo: Two nudes in the forest 1939

Now I will tell you some things about myself. I haven’t changed very much since you saw me last. Only I wear again my crazy mexican dress, my hair grew longer again, and I am as skinny as always. My character hasn’t changed either, I am as lazy as always, without enthusiasm for any thing, quite stupid, and damn sentimental, some times I think that this is bacause I am sick, but of course that is only a very good pretext. I could paint as long as long as I wish, I could read or study or do many things inspite  of my bad foot and other bad things, but, there is the point, I live on the air, accepting things as they come, without the minor effort to change them, and all day long I feel sleepy, tired and desperated. (Letter to Lucienne Bloch, February 1938).

Frida Kahlo: The broekn column 1944

My child, I really should not complain about anything that happens to me in life, so long as you love me and I love you. (This love) is so real and beautiful that it makes me forget even distance. .. I don’t have the words to describe how happy I am, knowing that you tried to make me happy and that you are so good and adorable… My lover, my heaven, my Nick, my life, my child, I adore you. .. Don’t make love to anyone, if you can help it. Do it only in case you find a real F. W. (fucking wonder), but don’t fall in love. .. Oh, my dear Nick, I adore you so much. I need you so much that that my heart burns. (Letter to Nickolas Muray, February 1939).

Excerpt from a Poem to Lina and Arcady Boytler

I am leaving my portrait to you

so you’ll have me in front of you

every day and every night

in which I am far away from you.

Sadness is portrayed

in my whole work,

but that’s my condition;

I am hopeless.

Frida Kahlo, 1941 - Photo by Emmy Lou Packard

Emilio Vedova – Italian Artist

Παρασκευή, 2 Δεκεμβρίου, 2011

During my recent visit to Venice, I was lucky to discover the Italian artist – painter, Emilio Vedova, who impressed me. Emilio Vedova was known as the ‘Italian brother’ of abstract expressionists Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

This post is triggered by the Exhibition “…in continuum”, that was on show in Venice until the end of November 2011.

The biographical notes that follow and the short description of the exhibition come from the site of the Emilio and Annabianca Vedova’s Foundation.

Biographical notes

Emilio Vedova painting in his studio

Born in Venice into a family of workers and artisans, from the 1930s onwards Vedova began an intense activity as a self-taught artist, drawing figures and buildings. In 1942, the young Vedova joined the anti-Novecento movement known as “Corrente”.
An anti-Fascist, he worked for the Resistance from 1944 to 1945 and in 1946, he was one of the co-signers of the “Oltre Guernica” manifesto in Milan. In the same year in Venice he was one of the founders of the “Nuova Secessione Italiana” followed by the “Fronte Nuovo delle Arti”.
In 1948 he made his debut in the Venice Biennale, the first of many appearances in this event: in 1952 an entire room was devoted to his work, in 1960 he was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting and in 1997 the prestigious Golden Lion award for Lifetime Achievement.

In the early 1950s he created his celebrated cycles of works: “Scontro di situazioni” (Collision of Situations), “Ciclo della Protesta” (Protest Cycle), “Cicli della Natura” (Cycles of Nature). In 1954, at the second São Paolo Art Biennial he won a prize that would allow him to spend three months in Brazil, where he encountered an extreme, hard reality that would leave its mark on him. In 1961 he designed the sets and costumes for Luigi Nono’s “Intolleranza ‘60” (Intolerance ’60); in 1984 he would work with the composer again on “Prometeo”.
From 1961 onwards he worked on his “Plurimi” creating an initial Venetian series followed by works made from 1963 to 1964 in Berlin including the seven pieces forming the “Absurdes Berliner Tagebuch ‘64” (Absurd Berlin Diary ’64) presented at the 1964 Kassel Documenta where he also showed in 1955, 1959 and 1982. From 1965 to 1967 he worked on “Spazio/Plurimo/Luce” (Space/Plurimo/Light) for the Montreal EXPO.

He carried out intense teaching activities in various American universities followed by the Sommerakademie in Salzburg and the Academy of Venice. His artistic career was characterised by a constant desire to explore and innovate.
In the 1970s he created the “Plurimi Binari” in the “Lacerazione” (Laceration) and “Carnevali” (So-called carnivals) cycles followed by the vast cycles of “teleri” (big canvases) and his “Disks”, “Tondi”, “Oltre” (Beyond) and “…in continuum…” (…in continuum…) works. He won numerous prestigious prizes and awards. His last important solo exhibitions included the major retrospective held at Castello di Rivoli in 1998 and, after his death in 2006, the sister shows at Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna and the Berlinische Galerie (Berlin).

…In Continuum

June 1, 2011 – November 30, 2011

Emilio Vedova began his artistic research in the 1930s surrounded by the seventeenth-century Baroque atmosphere of Venice. In the following decade, he was already a major figure in the post-war art scene, and in the 1950s, together with Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana, he became a leading exponent of Italian and European art informel alongside abstract expressionist painters from the United States such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. The winner of the Gold Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 1997 Venice Biennale, he endlessly fought for the freedom of the artistic experience against all forms of repression.

…in continuum, compenetrazioni/traslati ’87/’88 (…in continuum, compenetrations/transferred ’87/’88) is a cycle of 109 large canvases conceived and executed between 1987 and 1988. White on black and black on white paintings made using a unique technique, which Vedova called “blind painting”… in continuum is a sort of accumulation “with no beginning or end” that invades space in free and random layers. The potential gesture of arranging these canvases in ever-changing images in motion is meant to express the unstable precariousness of our lives and actions.

In an article on Italymag, we read:

[From the dark geometries of his experiments with cubism, Vedova’s work from 1950 onward grew increasingly abstract, placing him in league with the European ”Art Informel” movement that paralleled the work of abstract expressionists in America like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

”My [works] are not creations, but earthquakes,” Vedova once said.

”They are not paintings, but breaths”.

Vedova’s experimenting would eventually carry his work off the canvas altogether into the groundbreaking new terrain of artificial light play and installation art, for which he was featured in the Italian pavilion at the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal.]

Luigi Nono’s Intolleranza – Venice 1961

Vedova worked with his friend Luigi Nono in the production of Intolleranza, at “La Fenice” in Venice, 1961.

The Italian Pavilion in the Montreal 1967 Expo

In 1967 Emilio Vedova was appointed by the Italian Government to create an installation for the Italian Pavilion of the Montreal Expo. Vedova came up with this great ideas of using small glass slides, especially created to reproduce his abstract painting, and then projected on the asymmetrical walls of the Pavilion. He then asked Nono to compose some electronic music, but Nono had no time, and suggested to ask Marino. He replied: “I could do something, but keep in mind that I am no composer”. The result is Parete (Wall) 1967, a spectacular and intense 30-minutes loop of pure and intense electronics, a magmatic cascade of harsh sounds and deep drones, and a fantastic counterpart to the harsh and expressionistic painting of Vedova.

P.S. For whatever reasons, Vedova has not been a darling of the publicity circus in Europe and the USA. Artists of lesser qualities have been publicized and known, but not Vedova. In any case, this is a matter for another discussion.

Titian’s Pieta: The master of light … plunges into darkness

Σάββατο, 12 Νοεμβρίου, 2011

Tiziano: Pieta, detail

I borrowed half of the title of today’s post from an article by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.

As Jones says,

“Titian painted the Pietà when Venice was struck by plague. It was made as an ex voto offering, a prayer for the survival of himself and his beloved son, Orazio. In the bottom right-hand, propped under the stone lion, is a tablet on which Titian and Orazio are depicted praying to the Virgin for delivery from the plague. His plea went unanswered. Titian is recorded as having died “of fever” on August 27, 1576. Orazio also died during the plague.”

Titian: Transfiguration

Compare the dark oppressing colours of the Pieta to the exhuberant light of the Transfiguration of Christ in San Salvador in Venice,

Titian: Assumption of the Virgin

or the Assumption of the Virgin, in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.

Titian: Pieta (detail)

The world of the light has been transformed into the underworld of the Dead.

Titian: Pieta (detail, Nikodemus)

The kneeling Nikodemus is a self-portrait of the painter himself. The brushwork is visible only in some parts of the huge canvas. In many others, the careful observer can see smudges of paint, rather than brush strokes.

Titian: Pieta (detail, tablet)

The tablet in the right-bottom under the lion shows the painter and his son Orazio pleading to the Virgin for salvation.

Titian: Pieta, detail

But there has been no salvation. And the painting itself is anticipating this. It is full of fear, and silent resignation to the inevitability of Death. A Death that is anticipated as the entry in a dark, damp, frozen chamber, without any natural light. The painter of light, the admirer of women, the master of color, locks himself in the vision of his own death in the most horrific way imaginable.

The Pieta is allegedly Titian’s last painting. He did not even manage to finish it. According to the incription at the bottom of the picture, it was finished by Palma the Younger, one of his apprentices.

The Greek painter Stelios Faitakis has painted a mural for the Danish Pavilion in the 54th Venice Biennale.

It is not just a mural. It is a mural with the style and colors of Byzantium. In addition, it is beautiful. You can seat for a long time in the garden outside the Danish pavilion, enjoying the mural.

I had seen photos of it in the newspapers prior to my visit, but could never anticipate the impact the mural had on me.

Another Greek, Katerina Gregos, has been put in charge of the Danish kiosk after a lengthy and transparent selection process. Faitakis was one of the artists selected by Gregos. The mural builds on the tradition of Diego Rivera, but like any good piece of art, it goes beyond it. It tells many stories and it does so in pictures.

The mural comprises six panels. In the remainder I will present each panel, starting from the left to the right.

Panel 1:A photographer in the December 2008 events in Athens, Greece

Panel 2: President Mao in a garden of flowers with human faces

Panel 3: The crowd and the winged smart phones

Panel 4: Wilhelm Reich and the burning of the books

Panel 5: Gas Chamber and Oven

Panel 6: The violin – playing Saint

Above the door: Nikola Tesla

Epilogue: The themes on Faitakis’s mural are political, in the sense that they deal with the community, the society, the individual, and power. I do not get a sense of an all encompassing harmony in his synthesis. Most likely there is none. Likewise, there is no universal “message”. Which distinguishes the work from Rivera’s where there was a loud and clear message about the good workers, the bad capitalists, and so on. Faitakis’ world is far more complex. And this is why he can survive his playing with fire. Well done Mr Faitakis!!!! Thank you!!!


Right across from the Danish kiosk is the one representing the United States. There, an art duo from Puerto Rico, Allora & Calzadilla, have placed a tank from the Korean War upside down and on top of it there is an exercise machine, a belt on which an athlete with the USA shirt is running. The noise is horrible, and the sight is nothing to write home about. As for the inside of the USA pavilion, I better not say anything.

Takashi Murakami: Mr Superflat in Palazzo Grassi, Venice

Πέμπτη, 27 Οκτωβρίου, 2011

Palazzo Grassi, Venice

Some time ago I wrote about Makoto Aida’s Harakiri Schoolgirls. The great modern Japanese masters appeared in front of me again, in the face of Takashi Murakami. During a recent trip toVenice, I visited Palazzo Grassi’s exhibition “The World belongs to you” where I saw Takashi Murakami’s  masterpiece 727-272 (The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate). Takashi Murakami is indeed one of the modern Japanese Masters.

Takashi Murakami

“Blurring the traditional lines between art, commerce, pop, and subcultural concerns, the range of Murakami’s creative pursuits are seemingly boundless. In addition to producing some of the most iconic paintings and sculptures of the past two decades, his “business-art” activities span from designing a full gamut of consumer merchandise (either for his own Kaikai Kiki label or for fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçons) to running a gallery that promotes young Japanese artists to hosting a weekly radio talk show in Tokyo—to name just a few of the many preoccupations that keep him working on a legendarily nonstop clock.” (Source: Interview Magazine)

Takashi Murakami and Francois Pinault

Quoting from the Exhibition’s web site:

“(The work, especially commissioned for the space it occupies today in the Palazzo) draws on traditional sources ranging from Buddhist images, Zen painting, and 18th c. Edo-period compositional techniques that inspired Murakami to coin the phrase “superflat” to characterize the tendency throughout Japanese art history to eliminate threedimensional depth by arranging subjects non-hierarchically on a solid background. Murakami modernizes these traditions by combining them with contemporary Japanese popular culture, in the form of anime and manga (comic books), for instance in the central figure, Mr. Dob, Murakami’s own alter-ego depicted with a typically manga-style face. Mr. Dob’s figure contrasts with that of the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, the deity of agriculture and medicine, who lived around 2700 BCE. This work illustrates how Murakami deftly links the traditional with the contemporary, Western with Japanese, high art and mass culture”

Front panel - Mr Dob

“The starting-point for this pictorial narrative is the central figure of “Mr Dob”; a sort of alter ego of Murakami himself, this character is depicted with a typically manga-style face, a sly smile and three eyes that seem to look far into the distance. The narrative starts on the right, with the flow of color, comparable to that one finds in Warhol’s Oxidation paintings, bringing us to the second figure of the work. This is an old wise man inspired by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, who lived around 2700 BC.”

Front panel - Emperor Shennong

“Considered the deity of Agriculture, his name actually means “heavenly peasant” – Shennong would invent the plough and teach his people how to cultivate wheat and cereal crops. He is also celebrated as a deity of Medicine: according to legend, he would test hundreds of herbs to evaluate their curative properties; if of beneficial properties, the herb was said to light up his stomach – which was transparent – if harmful, it would blacken it. This is the role in which Murakami depicts Shennong, with a blade of grass in his mouth.”

Front panel

The work from the spectator’s view comprises three panels, forming an open rectangle. The front panel has Mr Dong and the Emperor.

Murakami must not be taken lightly because people call him “pop”, or because he likes “manga”, or because he has the tendency to be also in the fashion business.

Front Panel - Upper Left side - detail

As you can see in this detail of the front panel, he knows his painting and he creates some staggering compositions within compositions.

Left and Central Panels

The left panel has among other things, a stunning swirl, and some ideograms.

Left panel detail - swirl

The swirl, making direct reference to a tempest, appears often in Japanese art.

A painting by Shoga Shohauku

As to the ideograms, I have no clue about what they are, but I will find out.

Left panel detail - ideograms

Moving to the right panel, we are faced with a hollow mountain of skulls on top of which is a manga tiger.

Right and Central Panel

It should be clear by now that we are not talking about a single painting here, but a mix of paintings all coming together in the three panels.

Right Panel detail - skulls

In addition to the multiplicity of themes of this “collage”, one must also notice the changing texture of the paint and the colors, and the ruptures, or discontinuities that mark the shift from one to another.

Bruce Wallace of the Los Angeles Times, notes:

“Murakami’s art speaks to the sensibilities of the generation born in the 1960s, those who grew up with the reverberations of World War II’s disaster pulsing through the culture. They were raised on a media diet of anime and manga, with their anti-technology, antiwar story lines and themes. And they came of age in an era when Japan could throw up little more than Marxist jargon in resistance to the deluge of imported American culture.”

Right Panel detail - Tiger

“Surface is everything to Murakami—it’s all there is. I don’t know if you’re allowed to say this, but like a lot of contemporary Japanese artists Murakami is a craftmaster-whiz of flawless visual effects. He draws on traditional Japanese themes like flatness, pattern, and ornamentation. His kaleidoscopic paintings of Hokusai-like waves, his Lichtensteinian splashes, and DOB, his big-headed Mickey Mouse–like creature, are so immaculate you will think a machine made them.” (Jerry Saltz, Village Voice, 1999)

Cy Twombly, one of my favourite modern artists, has died on Tuesday, 5th July 2011 in Rome, Italy, losing a long battle to cancer.

His work “The Rose” was the object of a previous article. In another article on this blog I presented his sculpture “Thermopylae” in relation to C. Cavafy’s poem. Today I want to travel with Twombly in the Sea.

I have somehow visualized Death, more precisely the departure from this life, to embarking, to getting on a boat and sailing in the sea. This is no crossing of Acheron, the river of Hades. This is becoming one with the Sea, taking his boat out to the sea, and then sinking with it.

In order to do this, I will use his “Poems to the Sea”, a series of 24 works done in 1959, a photograph of the Sea that the artist took, and his monumental work “Lepanto”.

Twombly in 1958, the year after he moved to Italy from the US. Photograph: David Lees/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Poems to the Sea

‘As Twombly told the critic David Sylvester, “the Mediterranean is always just white, white, white”: in the 24 drawings called Poems to the Sea the colour blue barely appears, and yet the cursory lines and spots create a sea of the mind’s eye – hours of contemplation transformed into a few cryptic marks. With their textured, creamy backgrounds, the paintings inspired by Procida are also extremely evocative: parched cliff-tops in the Bay of Naples; crumbling plaster; the heat – it’s all there if you look for it, though without that act of the imagination the charm quickly fades.’ (source: Christopher Masters, the Guardian).

Poems to the Sea, 1959, Collection Dia Art foundation, New York

‘What order of poems, punctuated with numerals and question marks, are these? The sea is reduced to horizon line and word, scribblings and veils of paint against the stark white of paper. A persistent compulsion is invoked in the viewer, the desire to read what is there, but not fully manifest in the artist’s scrawled script. Two words in these drawings emerge into legibility, “time”and “Sappho”, as if washed up on the beach alongside sudden, subtle gem-flashes of colour – blue, orange-yellow, pink – gleaming all the more because of their discretion. In these pages, meaning is endlessly frustrated and pursued. It settles only in the distance, figured perhaps by the horizon lines that move across the top of each of the drawings – in fact, simply grey or blue lines made with a straight edge, but suggesting seascapes at the vanishing point. The flat planes of sea and page have been collapsed. Writing comes in waves, rolling funnels of cursive script, crossed out, erased, enfoamed in satiny greyish-white paint. The signs are given as nascent forms, as gestural indications of “the hand’s becoming”, as Roland Barthes so aptly phrased it.’ (source: Claire Daigle on Cy Twombly, Tate Gallery, London).

Cy Twombly: Miramare 2005


‘Cy Twombly photographs the subjects that he encounters in his studio in Gaeta, in Bassano, Rome or in Lexington, on the beach at Miramare or in botanical gardens, using an instant camera. By means of a special pigmenting process that involves dryprint, these one-offs are enlarged and printed in limited editions. Not only the special saturation of color, but also the fact that the shots are strikingly out of focus account for their unmistakable nature and extraordinary appeal. The consistent lack of focus is reminiscent of the photographs of the late 19th-century Pictorialists. Hubertus Von Amelunxen, however, discerns photo-historical references to the early days of photography, namely to early calotypes, first paper photographs permeated in “light and emulsion”. Indeed, with their aesthetic effect, Twombly’s photographic images exhibit a sense of both astonishment and entrancement with the (new) technology. The unusual and the new is of a quite singular beauty.

Using his particular technique, Cy Twombly manages to concentrate on the textures of surfaces which, removed from the flow of time, generate visual orders of an over-arching world of perception. Hubertus Von Amelunxen calls them “musical, rhythmical positions in an ineffable syntax” – as the focus is not on representation but on the unmistakable nature of things or the clarity of motifs. Finding the invisible in the visible, retaining the purportedly excluded in the image and at the same time sensing the intangible dimensions of time and space, that is what constitutes the great appeal of Twombly’s photographs. The eye is always very close to things, the direct view suggests an almost intimate proximity – of tender tulip blooms, of everyday objects such as glasses and bottles, of the artist’s slippers, his brushes and painting utensils, and not least his paintings themselves.’

(Source: La Lettre de la Photographie)

Cy Twombly: Lepanto


The work consists of 12 large canvases that looks back to one of the most important naval battles of early modern history. Lepanto was shown in September 2008 in the Museo del Prado prior to its permanent installation in the Brandhorst Museum in Munich in October of the same year. I saw the work in Brandhorst in 2010 and was deeply moved by it.

‘When Cy Twombly was offered a gallery dedicated to his work at the 2001 Venice Biennale, he chose to create a new work especially for the space, a work that he describes as one painting in twelve parts. For his concept of the project, Twombly turned to the genre of history painting. Before the advent of Modernism in the late 19th century, history painting, which encompassed images from mythology, the bible, and the lives of the saints, as well as scenes from ancient to contemporary history, was considered the highest achievement of the painter´s art. Responding to the exhibition´s locale adjoining the Arsenale shipyard, Twombly chose of his subject the famous 1571 naval battle of Lepanto.

Cy Twombly in front one of the "Lepanto" panels in the Venice Biennale of 2001

Venice, then an immensely powerful city-state, instigated the formation of an alliance against the Ottoman Empire, which had been attacking its colonies in the eastern Mediterranean and defiling their churches. Brokered by Pope Pius V, the western European alliance consisted of Venice, the Papal States, and Spain, three major Catholic powers of the post-Reformation period. The battle of Lepanto has always been viewed as a turning point in the history of Europe. The Ottoman Empire had heretofore seemed invincible and its fleet was far larger than the alliance´s armada. With more manageable Venetian-designed ships and superior deployment of artillery, the alliance vanquished and burned the Ottoman fleet. Lepanto was the last major sea battle that involved ramming and hand-to-hand fighting on deck. It was the first triumph of Christian Europe over the seemingly all-powerful Islamic Ottoman Empire. It also marked the end of the Mediterranean as the locus of shipping and trade; henceforth, the Atlantic routes to the riches of the American colonies dominated naval activity.

Twombly arranged Lepanto in a way that is at once symphonic and cinematic with four images of flames and falling leaves presaging, interrupting, and concluding his highly abstract narrative of the battle. The maritime scenes, with their stick-figure images of fighting galleys, become increasingly dense with the final triad drenched in the colors of his rich, limited palette. The lushness of the reds and yellows counterpoints their depiction of flames and blood.’

(Source: The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, USA)

As the ship disappears in the horizon, where sky and sea merge, I quote from Roland Barthes (The Wisdom of Art by Roland Barthes 3):

‘If we wished to locate this ethic, we would have to seek very far, outside painting, outside the West, outside history, at the very limit of meaning, and say, with the Tao Te King:

He produces without appropriating anything,
He acts without expecting anything,
His work accomplished, he does not get attached to it,
And since he is not attached to it,
His work will remain.’

Farewell Cy Twombly



“An artist is an artist only because of his exquisite sense of beauty, a sense which shows him intoxicating pleasures, but which at the same time implies and contains an equally exquisite sense of all deformities and all disproportion.” C.Baudelaire ( I thank “Paintisnotdead” for the quote)

Today I publish more of my favourite depictions of the female in sculptures, paintings and photos, accompanied by a song or an aria. Beaudelaire’s saying epitomizes what is the sense of beauty I am looking for. I am looking for all deformities and disproportions at the same time that I am captivated by the formal elements of beauty.

These are fragments, in the sense that Female Characters and Images and Music, all come together without a coherent Totality. Fragments, moments in times gone, characters in the course of history, real or imaginative.


1. {Alma Mahler} 

The golden hair of Venus, her eyes contemplating the fate of whoever meets her gaze. She is confident, she is on top of the world, she is unbeatable in the game of Love. Tackling her is suicidal, but this type of death, under her gaze is a sweet death.

Liebst du um Schönheit,

O nicht mich liebe!

Liebe die Sonne,

Sie trägt ein gold’nes Haar!

If you love for beauty,

Oh, do not love me!

Love the sun,

She has golden hair!

(Detail from Botticelli’s “The birth of Venus, Ufizzi in Florence.)

2.(Mimi, La Boheme}

Golden brown hair, contemplation on the mirror, the bluish landscape offering a retreat from the heat of the internal scene. The confidence of Venus is gone. The young woman tries to see into her future. What does the mirror hold for her?

O soave fanciulla, o dolce viso
di mite circonfuso alba lunar,
in te ravviso il sogno
ch’io vorrei sempre sognar!

Oh! sweet little lady! Oh sweetest vision,
with moonlight bathing your pretty face!
The dream that I see in you
is the dream I’ll always dream!

(Young Woman in her Toilet, by Giovanni Bellini (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)).

Gerhard Richter, Betty 1988

3. Everybody is talking at her, but Betty is looking away.

Everybody’s talking at me.
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only the echoes of my mind.
People stopping staring,
I can’t see their faces,
Only the shadows of their eyes.

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Thru’ the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Thru’ the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

(Almost five centuries later, Gerhard Richter’s daughter, Betty, poses unusually in this 1988 portrait. I have published this portrait for the first time in the blog in my 2010 post honoring women.)

David Schoerner, Martynka

4. Run Away, Turn Away

You leave in the morning
With everything you own
In a little black case
Alone on a platform
The wind and the rain
On a sad and lonely face

Mother will never understand
Why you had to leave
But the answers you seek
Will never be found at home
The love that you need
Will never be found at home

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.

Pushed around and kicked around
Always a lonely boy
You were the one
That they’d talk about around town
As they put you down

And as hard as they would try
They’d hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them
Just to your soul
No you never cried to them
Just to your soul

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.

Cry , boy, cry…

You leave in the morning
With everything you own
In a little black case
Alone on a platform
The wind and the rain
On a sad and lonely face

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away.

(Taking the lead from Richter’s unusual position for a portrait, David Schoerner, an American photographer, took this photo “Martynka (after Gerhard Richter’s Betty)”, honoring the oblique unusual pose of Richter’s Betty. I found this Martynka thanks to “Eloge de l’ Art par Alain Truong“).)

5. {Cio – Cio San (Madama Butterfly)}

Un bel dì, vedremo
levarsi un fil di fumo
sull’estremo confin del mare.
E poi la nave appare.
Poi la nave bianca
entra nel porto,
romba il suo saluto.
One good day, we will see
Arising a strand of smoke
Over the far horizon on the sea
And then the ship appears
And then the ship is white
It enters into the port, it rumbles its salute.

Cio-cio San asks the mirror the eternal question of beauty. This question is at the same time eternal and astonishingly temporal. She wants to know whether she is beautiful now, the very moment she is looking at the mirror. Tomorrow is too far away. “Am  I beautiful now?”

(The Japanese Master Hokusai painted a woman in front of her mirror. I like the somber background and the restrained tone of the colors.)

Alison Brady: Untitled 2006

6. Alice? Who the fuck is Alice

Brown hair covering the face, painted body inviting. Living painting, the canvas is now the human flesh.

Sally called when she got the word,
She said: “I suppose you’ve heard -
About Alice”.
Well I rushed to the window,
And I looked outside,
But I could hardly believe my eyes -
As a big limousine rolled slowly
Into Alice’s drive…

Oh, I don’t know why she’s leaving,
Or where she’s gonna go,
I guess she’s got her reasons,
But I just don’t want to know,
‘Cos for twenty-four years
I’ve been living next door to Alice.
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Twenty-four years just waiting for a chance,
To tell her how I’m feeling, maybe get a second glance,
Now I’ve got to get used to not living next door to Alice…
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Grew up together,
Two kids in the park,
Carved our initials,
Deep in the bark,
Me and Alice.
Now she walks through the door,
With her head held high,
Just for a moment, I caught her eye,
As a big limousine pulled slowly
Out of Alice’s drive.

Oh, I don’t know why she’s leaving,
Or where she’s gonna go,
I guess she’s got her reasons,
But I just don’t want to know,
‘Cos for twenty-four years
I’ve been living next door to Alice.
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Twenty-four years just waiting for a chance,
To tell her how I’m feeling, maybe get a second glance,
Now I gotta get used to not living next door to Alice…
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Sally called back, asked how I felt,
She said: “I know how to help -
Get over Alice”.
She said: “Now Alice is gone,
But I’m still here,
You know I’ve been waiting
For twenty-four years…”
And the big limousine disappeared…

I don’t know why she’s leaving,
Or where she’s gonna go,
I guess she’s got her reasons,
But I just don’t want to know,
‘Cos for twenty-four years
I’ve been living next door to Alice.
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Twenty-four years just waiting for a chance,
To tell her how I feel, and maybe get a second glance,
But I’ll never get used to not living next door to Alice…
Alice, who the fuck is Alice

Now I’ll never get used to not living next door to Alice…

(The portrait is now mixed with the nude body. Coming to think of it, the face, the object or subject of the portrait, is always naked. But we do not say “this is a naked face”, because the face – even when made up – is always naked. Therefore we do not say it as it would be a tautology. In the rather elaborate photo taken by Alison Brady, the face is not only naked, but hidden. In Schoerner’s Martynka the face is not shown, but is not hidden. In Brady’s untitled woman the face is hidden on purpose, as if what matters most is the naked breasts that have been elaborately covered by a paint pattern. Therefore we have a juxtraposition not only of the portrait with the naked body, but of the photo with a painting, as the depicted body is painted.)

Roy Lichtenstein: Crying Girl

7. Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda

Cry, cry girl!!!

Piangi, piangi faciulla!

(Roy Lichtenstein’s crying girl brings pop art to the post. The face in this portrait is not naked, as it is dressed by tears.)

RB Kitaj: Sandra Fisher

8.  Love

I wanna be loved by you
just you and nobody else but you
I wanna be loved by you – alone.
Boo boo bee doo

I wanna be kissed by you
just you and nobody alse but you
I wanna be kissed by you – alone.
Boo boo bee doo

I couldn’t aspire
to anything higher
and to feel the desire
to make you my own.
Badum badum bee doodily dum ! Boo !

(No female portrait collection would be complete without RB Kitaj’s portrait of his beloved Sandra Fisher.)

RB Kitaj: Marynka smoking

9. Marynka, aka Lulu

You keep saying you’ve got something for me.
something you call love, but confess.
You’ve been messin’ where you shouldn’t have been a messin’
and now someone else is gettin’ all your best.

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do
one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

You keep lying, when you oughta be truthin’
and you keep losin’ when you oughta not bet.
You keep samin’ when you oughta be changin’.
Now what’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet.

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do
one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

You keep playin’ where you shouldn’t be playin
and you keep thinkin’ that you´ll never get burnt.
I just found me a brand new box of matches yeah
and what he know you ain’t HAD time to learn.

These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do
one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

RB Kitaj: Marynka on her stomach

10. Lay lady lay

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Whatever colors you have in your mind
I’ll show them to you and you’ll see them shine

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you’re the best thing that he’s ever seen

Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Why wait any longer for the world to begin
You can have your cake and eat it too
Why wait any longer for the one you love
When he’s standing in front of you

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead
I long to see you in the morning light
I long to reach for you in the night
Stay, lady, stay, stay while the night is still ahead

(Kitaj also painted Marynka lying on her stomach.)

Aneta Bartos, untitled

11. Stairway to Heaven

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying the stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying the stairway to heaven.

There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

And it’s whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
And it makes me wonder.

Your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know,
The piper’s calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow, and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she’s buying the stairway to heaven.

(Another photo by Bartos)

Gerhard Richter: Ema - Nude on a staircase

12. Ema

And I would do anything for love,
I’d run right into hell and back.
I would do anything for love,
I’ll never lie to you and that’s a fact.

But I’ll never forget the way you feel right now, oh no, no way.
And I would do anything for love,
Oh I would do anything for love,
I would do anything for love,
But I won’t do that,
No I won’t do that.

And some days it don’t come easy,
And some days it don’t come hard,
Some days it don’t come at all, and these are the days that never end.

And some nights you’re breathing fire.
And some nights you’re carved in ice.
Some nights you’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before or will again.

And maybe I’m crazy.
Oh it’s crazy and it’s true.
I know you can save me, no one else can save me now but you.

As long as the planets are turning.
As long as the stars are burning.
As long as your dreams are coming true, you’d better believe it!

That I would do anything for love,
And I’ll be there till the final act.
And I would do anything for love,
And I’ll take the vow and seal a pact.

But I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way, tonight.

And I would do anything for love,
But I won’t do that.
No, I won’t do that!

I would do anything for love,
Anything you’ve been dreaming of,
But I just won’t do that.

And some days I pray for silence,
And some days I pray for soul,
Some days I just pray to the god of sex and drums and rock ‘n’ roll!

And maybe I’m lonely,
That’s all I’m qualified to be.
There’s just one and only, one and only promise I can keep.

As long as the wheels are turning.
As long as the fires are burning.
As long as your prayers are coming true, you’d better believe it!

That I would do anything for love,
And you know it’s true and that’s a fact.
I would do anything for love,
And there’ll never be no turning back.

But I’ll never do it better than I do it with you, so long, so long.
And I would do anything for love,
Oh, I would do anything for love,
I would do anything for love,
But I won’t do that.
No, no, no, I won’t do…..

I would do anything for love.
Anything you’ve been dreaming of.
But I just won’t do that!

But I’ll never stop dreaming of you,
Every night of my life.
No way.

And I would do anything for love.
But I won’t do that.
No I won’t do that.

Will you raise me up, will you help me down?
Will you get me right out of this God forsaken town?
Will you make it all a little less cold?

I can do that. Oh I can do that.

Will you cater to every fantasy I’ve got?
Will you hose me down with holy water, if I get too hot? Hot!
Will you take me places I’ve never known?

Now I can do that! Oh oh now, I can do that!

After awhile you’ll forget everything.
It was a brief interlude
And a midsummer night’s fling,
And you’ll see that it’s time to move on.

I won’t do that. I won’t do that.

I know the territory, I’ve been around,
It’ll all turn to dust and will all fall down,
Sooner or later, you’ll be screwing around.

I won’t do that. No, I won’t do that.

Anything for love,
Oh, I would do anything for love,
I would do anything for love,
But I won’t do that.
No, I won’t do that.

(Gerhard Richter’s painting )

Sarah Lucas: Nuds, 2010

13. Sweet Jane

Standing on the corner,
Suitcase in my hand
Jack is in his corset, and Jane is her vest,
And me I’m in a rock’n’roll band Hah!
Ridin’ in a Stutz Bear Cat, Jim
You know, those were different times!
Oh, all the poets they studied rules of verse
And those ladies, they rolled their eyes

Sweet Jane! Whoa! Sweet Jane, oh-oh-a! Sweet Jane!

I’ll tell you something
Jack, he is a banker
And Jane, she is a clerk
Both of them save their monies, ha
And when, when they come home from work
Oh, Sittin’ down by the fire, oh!
The radio does play
The classical music there, Jim
“The March of the Wooden Soldiers”
All you protest kids
You can hear Jack say, get ready, ah

Sweet Jane! Come on baby! Sweet Jane! Oh-oh-a! Sweet Jane!

Some people, they like to go out dancing
And other peoples, they have to work, Just watch me now!
And there’s even some evil mothers
Well they’re gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
Y’know that, women, never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes, woo!
And that, y’know, children are the only ones who blush!
And that, life is just to die!
And, everyone who ever had a heart
They wouldn’t turn around and break it
And anyone who ever played a part
Oh wouldn’t turn around and hate it!

Sweet Jane! Whoa-oh-oh! Sweet Jane! Sweet Jane!

Heavenly wine and roses
Seems to whisper to her when he smiles
Heavenly wine and roses
Seems to whisper to her when she smiles
La lala lala la, la lala lala la
Sweet Jane
Sweet Jane
Sweet Jane

(The transfiguration of food objects into body parts was a post that brought Sarah Lucas to my blog. Her NUDS is a series of sculptures that I find intriguing. I quote from the “Auckland’s Art Festival 2011″ relevant web page:)

Sarah Lucas: Nuds, 2010

(Lucas’s new sculptural series, NUDS, consists of nylon tights stuffed with fluff and fashioned into ambiguous biomorphic forms. The coinage NUDS itself implies knots, nodes, or nudes and is evidence of Lucas’s use of puns, slang and language as elements of her sculpture.  The works brim with allusions, inviting different interpretations from the tender to the auto-erotic. Leaning towards primitivism and abstraction, they echo the work of iconic British sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The sculptural approximation of the female form also links back to the gender-orientated works that defined Lucas’s early practice, in which assemblages of found objects became stand-ins for the female body.)


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