Σάββατο, 4 Μαΐου, 2013
Crucifixion is the subject that attests to the fragility, the futility, the horror and at the utter impossibility of life.
Live is an everyday miracle that we somehow take for granted.
The supreme depiction of Crucifixion as a «state» of being, is in Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.
After Grunewald’s Crucifixion, come the depictions by Francis Bacon.
A self-professed atheist, he has painted over and over again the subject of Crucifixion, two of which I have already presented in Crucifixion II.
Today I extracted from his «Sylvester Interviews» (1) material relevant to the Crucifixion and present it dressed with relevant pictures.
David Sylvester (DS): Is it a part of your intention to try and create a tragic art?
Francis Bacon (FB): No. Of course, I think that, if one could find a valid myth today where there was the distance between grandeur and its fall of the tragedies of Aeschylus and Shakespeare, it would be tremendously helpful. But, when you’re outside a tradition, as every artist is today, one can only want to record one’s own feelings about certain situations as closely to one’s nervous system as one possibly can.
DS: There is of course, one great traditional mythological and tragic subject you’ve painted very often, which is the Crucifixion.
FB: Well, there have been so very many great pictures in European art of the Crucifixion that it’s a magnificent armature on which you can hang all types of feeling and sensation. You may say it’s a curious thing for a non-religious person to take the Crucifixion, but I don’t think that that has anything to do with it. The great Crucifixions that one knows of – one doesn’t know whether they were painted by men who had religious beliefs.
DS: But they were painted as part of Christian culture and they were made for believers.
FB: Yes, that is true. It may be unsatisfactory, but I haven’t found another subject so far that has been as helpful for covering certain areas of human feelings and behavior. Perhaps it is only because so many people have worked on this particular theme that it has created this armature – I can’t think of a better way of saying it – on which one can operate all types of level of feeling.
DS: Of course, a lot of modern artists in all the media faced with this problem have gone back to the Greek myths. You yourself, in the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, didn’t paint the traditional Christian figures at the foot of the Cross, but the Eumenides. Are there other themes from Greek mythology that you’ve ever thought of using?
FB: Well, I think Greek mythology is even further from us than Christianity. One of the things about the Crucifixion is the very fact that the central figure of Christ is raised into a very pronounced and isolated position, which gives it from a formal point of view, greater possibilities than having all the different figures placed on the same level. The alteration of level is, from my point of view, very important.
DS: In painting a Crucifixion, do you find you approach the problem in a radically different way from when working on other paintings?
FB: Well, of course, you’re working then about your own feelings and sensations, really. You might say it’s almost nearer to a self-portrait. You are working on all sorts of very private feelings about behavior and about the way life is.
DS: One very personal recurrent configuration in your work is the interlocking of Crucifixion imagery with that of the butcher’s shop. The connection with meat must mean a great deal to you.
FB: Well, it does. If you go to some of those great stores, where you just go through those great halls of death, you can see0 fish and meat and birds and everything else all lying dead there. And, of course, one has got to remember that there is this great beauty of the color of meat.
DS: The conjunction of the meat with the Crucifixion seems to happen in two ways – through the presence on the scene of sides of meat and through the transformation of the crucified figure itself into a hanging carcass of meat.
FB: Well, of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal. But using the meat in that particular way is possibly like the way one might use the spine, because we are constantly seeing images of the human body through X-ray photographs and that obviously does alter the ways by which one can use the body.
Bacon had spoken of how people come away from the Grünewald Isenheim altarpiece ‘as though purged into happiness, into a fuller reality of existence.’ Whether this was true for him too as he faced the last months of his life, we may never know. In the last triptych he painted in 1991, he steps off the earth into the darkness of one of his black rectangles, looking out from a reflective, haunted self-portrait. ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be eighty and alone at midnight,’ he said to his godson Francis Wishart. But it cannot be insignificant that, knowing he was critically ill, he chose to be admitted to a Catholic convent where he died with a crucifix hanging on the wall behind his bed. He was cremated to taped Gregorian chant, in a coffin with a metal cross on the lid. (2)
Postscript 2: Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c. 1944
When this triptych was first exhibited at the end of the war in 1945, it secured Bacon’s reputation. The title relates these horrific beasts to the saints traditionally portrayed at the foot of the cross in religious painting. Bacon even suggested he had intended to paint a larger crucifixion beneath which these would appear. He later related these figures to the Eumenides – the vengeful furies of Greek myth, associating them within a broader mythological tradition. Typically, Bacon drew on a range of sources for these figures, including a photograph purporting to show the materialisation of ectoplasm and the work of Pablo Picasso. (4)
Second Version 1988
Part man, part beast, these howling creatures first appeared in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, which Bacon painted during the Second World War. One critic described that picture as a reflection of ‘the atrocious world into which we have survived’. Bacon identified his distorted figures with the vengeful Greek Furies, while the title places them in the Christian context of the crucifixion. In this version, painted in 1988, Bacon changed the background colour from orange to blood red, and placed more space around the figures, plunging them into a deep void.
Postscript 3: Bacon’s Final Triptych, 1991
In Bacon’s final triptych, made at the end of his career, a composite figure steps in and out of stagelike spaces. Seemingly nailed to the canvas are closely cropped headshots of Bacon’s face, at right, and, at left, that of a Brazilian racecar driver, placed above muscular lower bodies. The triptych form is rooted in Christian religious painting; the center panel is traditionally reserved for the object of devotion. Here, an abject mass of flesh spills forth from the black niche. Bacon said his triptychs were «the thing I like doing most, and I think this may be related to the thought I’ve sometimes had of making a film. I like the juxtaposition of the images separated on three different canvases.» (3)
For me the Crucifixion is the agony and ecstasy of life. I do not have much time for Resurrection. This is like the good ending of a Hollywood film. It is not the miracle that I do not buy in. It is the modern day interpretation that, after all, there is a good ending in life, that there is life after death.
(1) David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, Thames and Hudson
(2) ‘A TERRIBLE BEAUTY’ Francis Bacon: disorder and reality – Ingrid Soren
(3) Triptych, MOMA
(4) Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Tate Gallery
Stations of the Cross: Giandomenico Tiepolo, San Polo Church, Venice Italy and Art Institute, Chicago USA
Τετάρτη, 11 Απριλίου, 2012
Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) was the son of Giambattista Tiepolo, a master of painting.
He never achieved the status and fame of his father.
However, between 1747 and 1749 he painted «Via Crucis», the stations of the Cross, in the Oratory of the Crucifixion in the Venetian Church of San Polo. In the same period he also etched the sequence of prints with the same title.
This sequence of 14 paintings is for me the most moving sequence of Christ’s path to the Cross and the Beyond.
Inside the San Polo Church (when I visited) there were on display only some of the 14 paintings, the ones I photographed and have included here.
To my delight, I discovered some of the etchings on paper at the Art Institute of Chicago, which I also display here. Although they do not form a complete series, they supplement the paintings very nicely.
I followed the numerical sequence for both the prints and the paintings.
Frontispiece to the set of etchings
Station I: Christ is Condemed to Death
Station II: Christ Receives the Cross
Station III: Christ Falls Beneath the Cross for the First Time
Station IV: Christ Meets his Mother
Station V: Christ is Helped by Simon of Cyrene
Station VI: Christ’s Face is Wiped by St. Veronica
Station VII: Christ Consoles the Weeping Women
Station IX: Christ Falls Beneath the Cross for the Third Time
Station IX: Christ Falls Beneath the Cross for the Third Time
The crowd is shown full of anticipation.
Station X: Christ is Stripped of His Garments
Station X: Christ is Stripped of His Garments
Mother and daughter observing
Station XI: Christ is Nailed to the Cross
Station XI: Christ is Nailed to the Cross
The watching crowd
Station XII: Christ crucified
Station XIII: The deposition of Christ
Station XIV: Entombment
Παρασκευή, 27 Ιανουαρίου, 2012
Nel mezzo del cammin
di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita
Half-way upon the journey of our life
I find myself within a forest of darkness
for the straight way had been lost
Dante, La Divina Commedia, Inferno, Canto Primo
I said to myself: «Here I am and I might be elsewhere – I might exist a thousand years ago or in a thousand years’ time …»
I thought how I had come out of endless night and would soon go on into another endless night and that my brief passing was marked only by absurd and casual actions.
I then understood that my distress was caused not by what I was doing but more profoundly by the mere fact of being alive which was neither good nor evil but only painful and meaningless.
Alberto Moravia, La Romana
No beginning, middle, end – such is the structureless structure…
Our existence, as we know it, is no longer transparent and understandable by reason, bound together into a tight, coherent structure.
William Barret, Irrational Man
All these people… know where they’re going and what they want,
they have a purpose and so they hurry along,
they’re tormented, sad, happy, alive,
while I … I have nothing… no purpose…
if I weren’t walking I’d be sitting down; it makes no difference
Alberto Moravia, Gli Indifferenti
Seven nights higher red makes for red,
seven hearts deeper the hand knocks on the gate,
seven roses later plashes the fountain.
Paul Celan, Kristall
After that, everything became hazy; the minutes passed more and more slowly until eventually minutes seemed like hours. Two or three times the distant barking of a dog offered some hope, but we couldn’t see anything in the pitch black night and the dogs fell silent or were in the wrong direction.
Ernesto Che Guevara, Un diarrio per un viaggio in motocicletta
… for I have long since resigned myself to being myself.
But the fact is that my longing for a splendid imaginary destiny has, as it were, condensed the tragic, purple elements of my actual life into a kind of extremely compact, solid, and scintillating reduction…
Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers
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.
The painter was born in 1907 in Coyoacan, a borough of the Federal District of Mexico City as Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
Σάββατο, 12 Νοεμβρίου, 2011
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.»
Compare the dark oppressing colours of the Pieta to the exhuberant light of the Transfiguration of Christ in San Salvador in Venice,
or the Assumption of the Virgin, in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice.
The world of the light has been transformed into the underworld of the Dead.
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.
The tablet in the right-bottom under the lion shows the painter and his son Orazio pleading to the Virgin for salvation.
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.
Τρίτη, 1 Νοεμβρίου, 2011
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 4: Wilhelm Reich and the burning of the books
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.