I recently visited again the Bargello Museum in Florence, and was mesmerized by the Michelangelo sculptures on display.

I therefore decided to write one post for each, in the chronological order they were created. The first one is Bacchus as it was finished in 1497. Bacchus and St Peter’s Pieta are the only sculptures that can be attributed with certainty to Michelangelo’s Roman period.

Michelangelo: Bacchus, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

Bacchus is depicted with rolling eyes, his staggering body almost teetering off the rocky outcrop on which he stands. Sitting behind him is a faun, who eats the bunch of grapes slipping out of Bacchus’s left hand. With its swollen breast and abdomen, the Bacchus figure suggested to Giorgio Vasari “both the slenderness of a young man and the fleshiness and roundness of a woman”, and its androgynous quality has often been noted (although the testicles are swollen as well). The inspiration for the work appears to be the description in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History of a lost bronze sculpture by Praxiteles, depicting “Bacchus, Drunkenness and a satyr” (Source 1: Wikipedia)

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

Bacchus is more imaginative, experimental and inventive than either the Pieta or David, the two great sculptures with
which Michelangelo followed it. While the level of the carving and the resolution of compositional problems
in the Pieta is extraordinary by any criterion, the arrangement and attitude of the figures were not new; examples of the Virgin holding her dead son in her lap were known in Florentine painting at least a decade before Michelangelo began work on the group, and his apprenticeship as a painter in Ghirlandaio’s shop in the late 1480s would have made him
fully aware of them. David is astounding for his size, and for the skill with which Michelangelo overcame the difficulties of scale and of a shallow block, but the figure type is well known, and can be traced back through Donatello and Nicola Pisano to antique art. (Source 2: Ralph Lieberman, Regarding Michelagelo’s Bacchus)

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

In Michelangelo’s treatment, on the other hand, we understand from the figure’s reeling pose that he is experiencing the effects of his wine, and the stunning conjunction of character and behavior weds form to content at a level unknown in earlier Renaissance sculpture. Michelangelo’s profound exploration of the nature and personality of his subject led
him to create a figure difficult to accept by someone anticipating a more traditional representation, and Cardinal Riario was not prepared for a Bacchus who behaves in a drunken, indecorous way and who, “in brief…, is not the image of a god.” (Source 2)

Michelangelo: Bacchus, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

The group is prophetic in that in Bacchus, and even more in the satyr who attends him, are to be discerned the origins of the figura serpentinata, to become familiar two generations later, but here the poses Michelangelo gave his figures do not make them exercises in elegant artifice; Bacchus himself is in some ways an example of almost brutal realism. (Source 2)

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

We see the young Michelangelo having fun, portraying the God of Wine in a drunken state. The God is tipsy turvy, but why not?

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

But Dionysus is not the only one having fun. The young Satyr glued to him is devouring a bunch of grapes, his facial expression being the one of utter pleasure.

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

In addition to the depiction of fun, we have a very sensual depiction of the human body.

Dionysus is depicted as a sensual, hedonistic creature, seeking pleasure in more than one ways.

Michelangelo has taken the Greek Classical style’s line perfection, added the expressibility and character of the Hellenistic period, and crowner everything with his own passion for life, founded on the belief that life is beautiful. After all, this is the work of a 21 year old genius.

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

Miramare

‘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

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

 

Introduction

“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.

Fragmenta

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.
Ha!
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.
[x2]

[Solo]
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!
[x3]

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.

[Girl]
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?

[Boy]
I can do that. Oh I can do that.

[Girl]
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?

[Boy]
Now I can do that! Oh oh now, I can do that!

[Girl]
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.

[Boy]
I won’t do that. I won’t do that.

[Girl}
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.

[Boy]
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.)

1001 Ways to Die – (6) Peter Falk, American Actor

Κυριακή, 26 Ιουνίου, 2011

Peter Falk, one of my favorite actors, died at the age of 83 on 23rd June 2011. He  died peacefully at his home in Beverly Hills. In the last years of his life he was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

I got to know Peter Falk from the “Columbo” detective movies in the early 1980’s when I was in the US. I liked the movies very much, as Lieutenant Columbo would always catch the bad guys, the murderers who were trying to flee their inescapable fate.

Columbo in his car

Usually the murderer(s) was a very rich and/or powerful guy. Columbo would enter their impressive houses and mansions, and initially he would create more a wave of sympathy rather than fear, as he was a scruffy looking guy with a crumpled raincoat that he would wear all year long.

Columbo was always underestimated almost until the moment the murderer was caught.

In addition to his scruffy looks, he would carefully lead the suspect to believe that he (Columbo) was naive, almost thick in the mind. Add to this his absent – mindedness, and you have the recipe for a disaster in the investigation. How would Columbo ever catch anyone?

His most famous one liner was “Just one more thing”. He would say this when he was by the door, ready to leave the suspect’s home. He would turn his head, bend slightly, and say it. As I recall, the suspects were invariably irritated by the “thick, slow, absent-minded” lieutenant, but were enduring his questioning, almost sure that it would lead nowhere.

As famous as Columbo himself was his car, a Peugeot 403 convertible, released to the market in 1958. If Columbo was scruffy, his car was a moving wreck.

Peugeot 403 Cabriolet, 1958

However, he never gave it up, even though in some episodes he had a chance. In the photo above you see a well maintained model.

I would now  like to give a short example of his investigative method, or rather of his method of leading the murderer to entrapment and the inevitable confession. In the Episode “Any old port in a storm”, Columbo investigates the murder of a young Californian. The suspect is his half-brother, a wine producer and connoisseur. However, he has alibi: at the time of the death, he was attending a conference in the East Coast. Columbo knows that something is wrong and there are many contradictions in the suspect’s statements and stories, but he has no proof.  The suspect has an extensive and rare wine collection that requires the continuous operation of a temperature and humidity system all around the year. Finally, the whole question focuses on the operation of the wine maintenance system. When the victim was murdered, the temperatures where on the high side. The murderer had to keep the body of the victim in the wine cellar while he was attending the conference, but should the system be operational, this would keep the body in a condition that would change the estimated time of death. Therefore, the killer switched the system off for the critical 24 hours he was away. Columbo needed to prrof that the system was off, but he had no record of it. He therefore invites the murderer to dinner at his favourite restaurant, and at the end he offers a bottle of rare port. The killer tastes the port and immediately says that this bottle has gone bad. This was the needed proof, as the bottle was taken from the killer’s wine cellar. Vintage Columbo all the way!

Peter Falk was not just columbo. In his long career he has played in many movies. As this post is personal, I do not want to list all the movies, only the ones I have seen.

Wings of Desire Movie Poster

“Wings of Desire”, the wonderful movie of German Director Wim Wenders made in 1987, I have presented in another post. In this movie, Peter Falk played himself.

Another movie where Falk starred, was “Anzio, 1968, directed by Edward Dmytryk.

Anzio Movie Poster

Falk plays Corporal Jack Rabinoff, a “killing machine”, who is based on a real First Special Service Force soldier Jake Wallenstein, who ran an illegal brothel of Italian prostitutes in a stolen ambulance Most of the men, including Rabinoff, are killed. (Source: Wikipedia)

I confess I do not remember anything about the movie as I write.

A Woman under the Influence, Movie Poster

Closing this personal note on Peter Falk, I would like to refer his masterpiece, “A Woman under the Influence”, a John Cassavetes film made in 1974 and distributed in 1975.

Falk and Cassavetes were good friends. When Falk read the scenario and Cassavetes told him that nobody was willing to produce the movie, Falk gave him 500,000 dollars.

Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands

The movie was made, and Falk played the Italian blue collar worker who is married to Gena Rowlands, the “woman under the influence”. The movie is Cassavetes’ best.

Peter Falk and Model

Peter Falk was also a figurative artist. He loved to draw and paint.

Farewell Columbo!!!

“Εάν αποσυνδέσεις την Ελλάδα, στο τέλος θα δεις να σου απομένουν μια ελιά, ένα αμπέλι κι ένα καράβι. Που σημαίνει: με άλλα τόσα την ξαναφτιάχνεις.” (Οδυσσεας Ελυτης, Μικρος Ναυτιλος, ΜΥΡΙΣΑΙ ΤΟ ΑΡΙΣΤΟΝ (ΧΙV)

Πρελουδιο

Εν τω μεσω του ορυμαγδου περι της εκταμιευσεως 5ης δοσεως, της κοκορομαχιας των πολιτικων “αρχηγων”, και των συγκεντρωσεων των “αγανακτισμενων”, αισθανομαι να με καταπνιγει η ακαλαισθησια, η μικροπρεπεια, η ανικανοτητα, η κουτοπονηρια, η βλακεια, η πενια του πνευματος, η ελλειψη ορχεων,  ο στρουθοκαμηλισμος. Καταφευγω λοιπον επειγοντως σε ακομη μια πραγματικη Ελλαδα, που δεν εχει καμμια σχεση με ολα τα ανωτερω, την Ελλαδα του Οδυσσεα Ελυτη.

Η Διαφανεια

“ΟΤΙ ΜΠΟΡΕΣΑ Ν’ ΑΠΟΧΤΗΣΩ μια ζωή από πράξεις ορατές για όλους, επομένως να κερδίσω την ίδια μου διαφάνεια, το χρωστώ σ’ ένα είδος ειδικού θάρρους που μου ‘δωκεν η Ποίηση: να γίνομαι άνεμος για τον χαρταετό και χαρταετός για τον άνεμο, ακόμη και όταν ουρανός δεν υπάρχει..”  (Οδυσσεας Ελυτης, Ο Μικρος Ναυτιλος)

Ο Γ. Μπαμπινιωτης επισημαινει:

“Γενικά, κατόρθωσε να επινοήσει μιαν άλλη μορφή αντισυμβατικής γλώσσας, ώστε να ξυπνάει κάθε φορά τη συγκίνηση, το όνειρο, το συναίσθημα, την εικόνα, τη φαντασία, την ικανότητα να βλέπεις μέσα στα πράγματα, τη διαφάνεια δηλ., και να μεταβάλεις τη φευγαλέα στιγμή σε διάρκεια, μια άλλη βασική έννοια τής ποίησης τού Ελύτη.” (Το Βημα, Ο Ποιητης της Γλωσσας.)

Ο ιδιος ο Ελυτης στην πρωτη παραγραφο της ομιλιας του προς την Ακαδημια Επιστημων της Σουηδιας, αναφερει:

“Ας μου επιτραπεί, παρακαλώ, να μιλήσω στο όνομα της φωτεινότητας και της διαφάνειας. Επειδή οι ιδιότητες αυτές είναι που καθορίσανε τον χώρο μέσα στον οποίο μου ετάχθη να μεγαλώσω και να ζήσω. Και αυτές είναι που ένιωσα, σιγά – σιγά, να ταυτίζονται μέσα μου με την ανάγκη να εκφρασθώ. Είναι σωστό να προσκομίζει κανείς στην τέχνη αυτά που του υπαγορεύουν η προσωπική του εμπειρία και οι αρετές της γλώσσας του. ” (Οδυσσέας Ελύτης:Ομιλία κατά την απονομή του Βραβείου Νόμπελ, Στοκχόλμη, 8/12/1979.)

Αιγαιο και Γλωσσα

Ο ποιητης που λατρεψε το Αιγαιο, και σμιλεψε την ποιηση του με την ελληνικη γλωσσα αποφαινεται:

“Ένα δειλινό στο Αιγαίο περιλαμβάνει τη χαρά και τη λύπη σε τόσο ίσες δόσεις που δεν μένει στο τέλος παρά η αλήθεια.”

“Μια γλώσσα όπως η ελληνική όπου άλλο πράγμα είναι η αγάπη και άλλο πράγμα ο έρωτας. Άλλο η επιθυμία και άλλο η λαχτάρα. Άλλο η πίκρα και άλλο το μαράζι. Άλλο τα σπλάχνα κι άλλο τα σωθικά.”

(Οδυσσεας Ελυτης, Μικρος Ναυτιλος, ΜΥΡΙΣΑΙ ΤΟ ΑΡΙΣΤΟΝ (ΧΙV, ΧV)

Αναστασία Δούκα - Μερόπη Σούλη (Δ.Σ. Απολλωνίας Σίφνου)

Ελληνισμος

Η συρρικνωση του ελληνισμου μετα την επικρατηση των εθνικισμων – δεν το συνειδητοποιησαμε ποτε οσο επρεπε – μας αποστερησε απο τον τροπο να βλεπουμε τα πραγματα με την ανοιχτοσυνη εκεινη και την ισχυ που διεθετε το ιδιο μας το γλωσσικο οργανο σε μια μεγαλη εκταση του πολιτισμενου κοσμου. Απ’ αυτη την αποψη, οσο περιεργο και αν φαινεται, ο πριν απο τους δυο παγκοσμιους πολεμους υπηκοος του μικροσκοπικου τουτου κρατους ανασαινε τον αερα μιας περιπου αυτοκρατοριας. Οι δυνατοτητες του να κινηθει χωρις διαβατηριο γλωσσας καλυπτανε μεγαλα μερη της Ιταλιας και της Αυστριας, ολοκληρη την Αιγυπτο, τη νοτιο Βουλγαρια, τη Ρουμανια, τη Ρωσια του Καυκασου και, φυσικα, την Κωνσταντινουπολη με την ενδοχωρα της, ως κατω, κατα μηκος του Αιγαιου, τη λεγομενη στις μερες μας νοτιοδυτικη Τουρκια.  (Οδυσσεας Ελυτης, Εν Λευκω, Αναφορα στον Ανδρεα Εμπειρικο)

Γιατι γραφετε;

…ρωτανε συχνα τον ποιητη στις συνεντευξεις. Κι εκεινος βιαζεται ν’ απαντησει: “δεν ξερω”. Ειναι αληθεια οτι, απο μιαν αποψη, κι εγω ο ιδιος δεν ξερω. Απο μιαν αλλη ομως αισθανομαι οτι το απολυτως ατομικο μερος του εαυτου μου τοτε μονον θα το δω να επαληθευεται, οταν το αποστερησω απο την ιδιοτητα της προσωπικης περιπτωσης – οταν με αλλα λογια, το καταστησω κοινον.   (Οδυσσεας Ελυτης, Εν Λευκω, Τα μικρα εψιλον)

Women in Men’s Clothes

Κυριακή, 22 Μαΐου, 2011

Today I want to address the subject of women wearing men’s clothes.

In spite of the Bible’s (Deuteronomy 22.5) urge:

“A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”, women have been wearing men’s clothes for many centuries now.

Amazon wearing pants, Attic white-ground alabastron, British Museum, 470 BC As the 470 BC white-ground alabastron from Attica Greece shows, the Amazons were wearing pants many centuries before Christ (it is in the British Museum’s collection).

Cross-dressing is the wearing of clothing and other accoutrement commonly associated with a genderwithin a particular society that is seen as different than the one usually presented by the dresser.[1] Cross-dressing has been used for disguiseperformance art and as a literary trope in modern times and throughout history. (Source: Wikipedia)

What are the motives behind women’s wearing of men’s cloths? Lets see some different cases.

Case 1 (A means to an end): The wife tries to liberate the husband form the prison

In Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, Act 1 begins with Florestan’s wife, Leonore, came to Rocco the jailers door dressed as a boy seeking employment, and Rocco hired her.

Yvonne Howard as Leonore in Opera Holland Park's 2003 production of Fidelio

Case 2 (Artistic): The woman is a mezzo-soprano and has to dress as a man, before her role is a man

In Act 1 of Richard Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg (the Marschallin, the title given to a Field Marshal’s wife) and her much younger lover, Count Octavian Rofrano exchange vows of love. In this case, Octavian is a role sung by a mezzo-soprano. Therefore, the role is male, but the singer is female.

Renee Fleming as the Marschallin and Susan Graham as Octavian

Case 3 (Stylistic): Diane KEaton in Woody Allen’s Anny Hall

This is the moment in Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s classic 1977 romantic comedy, when the world (and Alvy Singer) fell in love with Diane Keaton’s distinctive and quirky style. When the 30-year-old actress had turned up on the set, the film’s costume lady complained to Allen that she looked “crazy” and couldn’t possibly wear her own gear onscreen (as often happened in Woody movies). But Allen replied: “Leave her. She’s a genius. Let’s just leave her alone and let her wear what she wants.” (Source: Style Matters)

Case 4(Love): Alice in the Navy – In a Greek movie of 1961, Alice enters the Naval Academy’s Training Center dressed as a Cadet, in order to meet her lover.

Η Αλικη στο Ναυτικο: Αλικη Βουγιουκλακη και Δημητρης Παπαμιχαηλ

Case 5 (Stylistic): Marlene Dietrich in 1928 was photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The photo was part of a set published by LIFE Magazine.

Marlene Dietrich

Case 6 (Stylistic): Catherine Hepburn ten years later, also in a Alfred Eisenstaedt photo.

Catherine Hepburn

Case 7 (Fashion): Thanks to the “How to spend it” Financial Times’ magazine, I can publish the following pictures, for private non-commercial use only.

Harakiri School Girls: by Makoto Aida

Πέμπτη, 5 Μαΐου, 2011

“It is spirit, not painting” Makoto Aida says in the closing frame of Japan Society’s video for the exhibition “Bye Bye Kitty” in New York. (the link to the video is at the end of this post).

Today I want to present Makoto Aida’s work “Harakiri School Girls”. This is a composition that recurs in the artist’s activity. It first appeared in 1999, when the artist wanted to create a poster for his first solo exhibition. What attracted me to the painting is the 2002 print on film with acrylic, which you can see immediately below.

Harakiri School Girls, 2002

I am a fan of manga, the Japanese comics. So I was immediately attracted to the  picture, as it looks like manga in a way, but when you open the door and get in it is something totally different. I am also fascinated by the bright neon lights in Tokyo’s streets, the advertising billboards, the extremely crowded and chaotic urban scenes. I could find elements of all these in the picture.  So I present to you all three versions I could find, the original 1999, the “flashy” 2002, and the more etherial 2006, along with some commentaries.

Makoto Aida

“Harakiri School Girls combines the fetishistic fashions and nubile bodies of fantasy schoolgirls with the time-honored samurai practice of ritual suicide.”

(Source: Japan Society’s “Bye Bye Kitty“)

“Hara-kiri Schoolgirls” is typical of the images by Japanese multimedia artist Makoto Aida, who has created numerous series portraying mutilated young women as consumer goods. This image is intentionally shocking: according to the artist, it combines beauty and violence in order to challenge deeply rooted ideas about Japanese beauty and bring to light elements of the grotesque.

(Source: Jewish Museum, Berlin, Made in Japan)

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi - The Foxfires

“Several of the artists borrow from archaic Japanese pictorial conventions, only to skewer them with a contemporary nihilist sensibility. Makoto Aida’s brightly colored “Harakiri School Girls” emulates the style and violent subject matter of the 19th-century artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, but the atrocious acts pictured — ritual suicides, beheadings and disembowelings — are performed by pretty, uniformed schoolgirls, a possible reference to a culture that has lost its bearings.”

(Source: Artkabinet, Elisabeth Kirsch)

Harakiri School Girls, Poster, 1999

“During the late nineties, as gal culture was running rampant, Aida became intrigued. “I think those kogals in the 1990s were originals,” he says. “Historically and even globally, they were unique, and I sought a way to portray them.” Inspiration came from a group of high school girls squatting on the ground in Shibuya. “The scene reminded me of besieged warriors who have decided to commit mass suicide.” Out of this, Aida created Harakiri School Girls, originally as a poster to advertise his first solo exhibit in 1999, and later as a painting for the Singapore Biennale 2006.

Book Cover: "Japanese Schoolgirls Inferno"

Laced with dark humor, the work shows a group of uniform-clad schoolgirls plunging samurai swords into their stomachs, disemboweling themselves, and slicing off their own heads. The flash of a blade creates a rainbow in the blood spurting from a girl’s neck. A stream of blood flows past a curious kitten, karaoke flyers, and discarded tissues, into a drain. The work is gruesomely cute. “Harakiri School Girls is an allegory for the distorted mentality of Japanese youth at the time and the atmosphere of Japanese society,” Aida explains. “After the Bubble Economy collapsed, I felt that an air of pessimism was spreading through Japan like a virus.” Everything might have looked cute and happy, but underneath that veneer seethed dejection and darkness. During the nineties, the number of suicides increased year by year, and according to Aida, Japanese patriotism withered away. These schoolgirls, in their loose socks and school uniforms, symbolize the entire country, killing itself.”

(Source: Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, by Brian Ashcraft and Shoko Ueda )

Thesis Abstract
The Schoolgirl Body in Pieces: The Manga Portraiture of Makoto Aida

Manga has been an established form of popular expression in the Japanese visual field for centuries. During the postwar era, manga reflected a cultural shift in the identity of the national body, as a formerly cohesive imperial nation fell into fragments in the wake of defeat and control by American military forces. Framed by this shift, the manga renditions of brutalized and sexualized Japanese schoolgirls by the contemporary Japanese artist Makoto Aida convey elements of a nation’s fractured identity still shaped by it’s postwar temperament and global positioning. Certain moments of Japan’s present-day manifestations of postwar trauma find revitalized visual expression when inscribed upon the bodies of these girls, revealing the psychic role of the body in postwar and present-day Japan and how national memories of the past are constructed through bodily tropes. Aida’s appropriation of these bodies also reveals the engagement of the wound with historical memory, and the unstable constructions of female sexuality and identity that linger in contemporary Japan.

Harakiri School Girls, 2006

The narrative of the male fantasy in which a young girl is desired, attacked, stimulated, and brought to ecstasy has been present in Japan since the 1970s, persisting as a major trope within manga and anime. Graphic depictions of sexualized young girls play a major role in contemporary Japanese visual culture and because of this, “she” has become a highly readable and visible format from which to instigate social criticism and expression. I would like to suggest that the immediate and cursory misogyny that is visible in Aida’s depictions of young girls borrows from these pornographic genres as a subversive gesture that re-appropriates this bodily narrative vessel for social commentary. An examination of Aida’s imagery unveils the social forces shaping the artist’s source material, the implied spectators and their habits of bodily consumption.

Poster for the movie "Uniform Sabaigaru", where innocent schoolgirls hack zombies into bloody chunks

I will discuss two of Aida’s manga works in which the young girls are presented with varying degrees of agency and submission when confronted with their brutalization. With Harakiri Schoolgirls (2006), the girls are depicted in a more individualized and essentialized manner. Here, a bevy of vibrant, uniformed Japanese schoolgirls commit stylized acts of self-inflicted suicide (harakiri) and decapitation. Of Aida’s schoolgirl imagery, this piece is unique in that the girls retain a certain control over the fatal violence. The second series, The Edible Artificial Girls, Mimi-chan (2001) is an example of Aida’s work in which the girls are presented en masse and in pieces as the main ingredient in an array of delicious Japanese dishes. Mimi-chan works as Aida’s hyper-realized riff on the dominant characterization of Japanese girls as the ultimate material consumers and the problematic consumability of these bodies. A portrayal connected to the ideological commodification of the female body that was conceived during the postwar era.

(Source: Maya Kimura’s Thesis Abstract)

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