Sunday, February 28, 2010

Jeśli lubisz Trzęsidzidę

Verbatim translation: If you like Shakespeare.

I spent all my First Communion money on a lexicon of painting (exactly on this one, but back then internet was not where you found it) and I thought this was the most enchanting painting in the world:

Years later I heard about Elizabeth Siddal's anguish--posing for Millais in a bathtub of cold water. I wish someone would discover a secret alternative version of the painting or a sketch of Siddal on her break: reading a book in that bathtub, adding warm water on the sly.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Overcoming Intrusion? Egon Schiele: Sitting Woman With Legs Drawn Up

It took me a long time to come to terms with Egon Schiele. Much of his art repelled me (still does, to be honest) because of its voyeurism and obtrusive sexualization of little girls.

Much of his art is like a magnet, though. There is an expressive economy of lines in his sketches: there always appears to be enough, though it seems he drew only what was absolutely necessary to make the image legible.

The perspective is often difficult to figure out--sometimes it seems we're looking at the figure from an uncomfortable position at the ceiling, sometimes it seems we're crouching on the floor--but we're always close, in the model's personal space. So close that it's possible to feel like an intruder in a Schiele painting.

When I found KatColorado's re-enaction of Schiele's Sitting Woman... on Flickr, it got me thinking about that problem of intrusiveness and of tableaux vivants (one of those pastimes I can never understand).

KatColorado repeats the brilliant composition, the pose, almost the same perspective. Maybe it's just my hopeless attachment to text but her brief description of how she went about the project sets it apart from Schiele's invitation to intrude.

I don't mean to go all Marie Bonaparte* on Schiele, but having read about his troubled relationship with his mother, his use of his sister Gerti and then later Wally Neuzil and the Harms sisters as models, I can't quite separate that knowledge from the violence in his representation of women. The photographer re-enacting the painting isn't putting herself just in the position of the model but in multiple roles at once. Unlike in the haunting description of tableaux vivants in The House of Mirth, the issue here is not exact embodiment of the figure in the painting but re-doing the painting. (So KatColorado can survive the experiment, unlike poor Lily Bart?)

It leaves me still not understanding tableaux vivants but more at ease with the masochistic appeal of Schiele's work. I like the photograph. If you know more projects of this kind, drop me a line.

Egon Schiele: Sitting Woman With Legs Drawn Up (1917), originally uploaded by KatColorado

[While the dead cities and dead children paintings are incredible in their own way, I have no idea how to weave them in here, so I bracket them for now. Voilá!]

*Marie Bonaparte was a disciple of Freud's and author of a psychoanalytical interpretation of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, notorious for its vision of art as symptom of the artist's psychological issues.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Day, Snow Death

The jokes are over. This is my neighborhood yesterday:

(Photos courtesy of my favorite photographer)

I don't have pictures from today. Take a piece of paper, draw a narrow margin of graphite at the top, and let's say it's the sky today. Below that you have between 2 and 3 feet of snow (and growing). That's right: I live in an amateur illustration for Jack London's "To Build a Fire."

It's almost March. I still need to get to work today. Did I already mention I hate snow?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Illustrations and Ephemera for Uncle Tom's Cabin

I recently had the chance to look at several nineteenth-century illustrated editions of Uncle Tom's Cabin, responses to the novel, and children's books of verse and tales based on the novel. The amount of material generated already as the installments of Stowe's novel were appearing in The National Era is astounding. If you think that the gadget madness started with Lucas's Star Wars, you need a sentimental trip to the sentimental edge of the nineteenth century.

I post here a few highlights from a random web image search.

Images, from left, with links to original sites: [1] [2] [3] Eliza's escape across the frozen Ohio river; [4] Dinah holding little Eva; [5] [6] Eva and Topsy; [7] Eva with Tom

Babie lato, or, the One I Always Got Wrong

Józef Chełmoński, Babie lato (1875)

Babie lato [Gossamer] is the painting that haunted me throughout childhood, mostly because it hung in my grandmother's living room and then I saw it in the museum with my grandparents. What troubled me about it was that I was sure the figure in the picture was a boy but the title - verbatim: women's summer - introduced some doubt. It was only after a few years in school that I learned that babie lato meant either gossamer or Indian summer. It took several more years before I realized the figure was not a boy but a peasant woman.

What I still don't get is why this Polish peasant woman is wearing a bright yellow turban.

But now my focus has shifted to the dog. It always makes me smile.

The Masochistic Delight of Erotic Excess: Podkowiński, Szał

Władysław Podkowiński, Szał (1894)

To make a long story short and potentially mistaken, the painter went crazy after presenting this equestrian sex fantasy to the cruel world of art connisseurs (I believe the world for him meant primarily Kraków).

Podkowiński was ripped apart by the critics who accused him of a tasteless pursuit of cheap thrills. Needless to say, Szał [Ecstasy] remains one of the most recognizable Polish paintings. Of course, it's also still recognized as kitsch, but certainly not cheap kitsch. And in a bare, minimalistic setting and with a Freudian mindset, I believe this painting could be interpreted as the be all and end all of art.

In the words preferred by our image-driven age, it's sex! animalistic desire! naked girl! red hair (=passion)! no gravity!