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Indie Horror: Scare Me (2020) & Make Cool Sh!t

Okay, first things first. I’ve been neglecting you guys for a little bit here and I have a pretty lame explanation. I got busy.

No, really though—I have been incredibly busy, but I’m a bit disappointed because I have such a huge backlog of content that I’ll be catching up for months (maybe). I’ll sincerely try not to overload you guys here, so as I start finishing things up, I’ll schedule them to post here.

On to new business. Are you a horror fan? Are you a horror-comedy fan? Well then boy, do I have a movie for you.

Make Cool Sh!t, Scare Me (2020) and how my ego exploded

So, there I was checking my e-mail early last week when I saw that I had received an e-mail asking me if I would like to conduct an interview that would cover a podcast by the name of Make Cool Sh!t. I hadn’t heard of it and let me tell you, my friends, that in and of itself is a tragedy. A tragedy that I refuse to let go unremedied.

So last week, I hopped on Zoom with Aaron and Josh and we had a human conversation—check out the end of this article for the link to the interview.

Check out the Season Finale of Make Cool Sh!t

As of this posting, I myself, have not yet had a chance to listen to this one—but if it’s anything like the previous seven, I’ll be bummed out when it’s over.

Make Cool Sh!t: Season One – Make a Movie [Podcast]

Season one of Make Cool Sh!t was dedicated to following the film-making process of an indie horror-comedy movie by the name of Scare Me (2020).

Mary Farnstrom

It’s a podcast hosted by writer, actor, and comedian Aaron Kheifets that focused the first season of its show on the process of indie-filmmaking. Specifically, the making of indie horror-comedy Scare Me (2020) which just so happened to be the first feature film of the writer, director, and actor Josh Ruben. More on that later.

Aaron takes us on an engaging journey as we follow an indie filmmaker who is putting his entire career on the line to finally realize his creative vision. Despite the seriousness of the topic, he manages to keep the mood of the podcast light, witty, and hilarious.

Summary

An exhilarating journey through the indie filmmaking process. The ups, the downs, and everything in between.

5

Scare Me (2020) Official Trailer

Scare Me (2020)

Scare Me (2020) this horror comedy is witty and creepy, without relying on jump-scares and gratuitous violence to convey its message.

Mary Farnstrom

Film Synopsis: During a power outage, two strangers tell scary stories. The more Fred (Josh Ruben) and Fanny (Aya Cash) commit to their tales, the more the stories come to life in the dark of a Catskills cabin. The horrors of reality manifest when Fred confronts his ultimate fear: Fanny is the better storyteller.

Fred feels as if his life is in a downward spiral and just wants to get away from it all so he can focus on something that means a lot to him: his first book. This narrative of a man who feels spurned by the women he has met in his life is scary and real—something that I could easily see happening in the real world. A narrative of a man who unwittingly falls under the spell of toxic masculinity and wants to believe that he is entitled to things he hasn’t earned.

While the modern, desensitized, CGI-loving horror community might tend to favor stories with gratuitous sex and violence, we might all be able to see a little bit of ourselves in Fred. Maybe that’s what truly makes this a horror film.

Summary

A fun, yet uncanny representation of what can happen when we let our egos get in the way as hubris takes control.

5

My Interview with Josh Ruben and Aaron Kheifets

So, while my ego didn’t quite explode, this was an incredible opportunity to discuss the mindset behind the creation of horror films. In a world where we are constantly calling into question the morality of the people we patronize, this interview provided an in-depth look at how we can still recognize the need to have strong ethics even in the face of stress and seemingly insurmountable odds.

But don’t let me keep you, check out this interview I conducted with these two rad creative guys, then subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Categories
Artists & Artwork Entertainment Non-Fiction

The Surreal Movement Among Communist Mexican Artists

The Surrealism movement didn’t really take over the Mexican art world until the late 1930s, as Hitler’s power grew it became more and more evident that Europe was heading into another war and many progressive artists feared for their lives—some escaped to New York, others went south to Mexico.

Frida Kahlo

First up, we have the famous unibrow donning feminist Frida Kahlo—I first heard of Kahlo in 2002 when I saw the movie based on her life, Frida (2002) starring Salma Hayek as Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico City to Matilde Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón and Wilhelm “Guillermo” Kahlo; her father, a photographer, had immigrated to Mexico from Germany where he met and married her mother. Frida was the third child of four daughters and by the age of six, she had contracted polio which confined her to her bed for nine months. While she was recovering from her illness, Guillermo encouraged his daughter to play soccer, go swimming, and even wrestle to help her recover from the damage the disease had caused in her right leg and foot.

She was enrolled at the renowned National Preparatory School in 1922, where she was one of the only female students to attend and she gravitated toward a group of politically and intellectually like-minded peers. While in school, she became more politically active, to the point of joining the Young Communist League and the Mexican Communist Party. Tragedy struck on September 17, 1925, when Kahlo and her boyfriend from school, Alejandro Gómez Arias were traveling on a bus when it collided with a streetcar. Kahlo was unfortunately impaled through her hip by a steel handrail and subsequently suffered from several injuries and fractures to her spine and pelvis. She was forced to stay at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for weeks to recover from the accident before she was released to recuperate further at home. It was during this time that she found her love for art when she began painting, eventually painting her first self-portrait a year after her accident and gifting it to Alejandro Gómez Arias.

I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”

Frida Kahlo

Frida was most famously known for her self-portraits, which accounted for fifty-five of her two hundred paintings, as well as her bold and vibrant color choices. She became a huge feminist figure, with her confident unibrow and deep emotional expression in her paintings. Considering how often Kahlo was either ill or injured, she showed the world the depths of her physical and emotional pain. During the last four years of her life, Kahlo was hospitalized several times—among the medical issues she faced such as gangrene, depression, and reported suicide attempts, it is believed that when Kahlo died a week after her forty-seventh birthday, that it was due to a pulmonary embolism. There are, of course, alternative beliefs, in which people allege that she successfully committed suicide.

The Dream (The Bed) (1940)

The Dream (The Bed) (1940) by Frida Kahlo
The Dream (The Bed) (1940) by Frida Kahlo

Kahlo painted The Dream (The Bed) in 1940 using oils on canvas—it, much like many of Frida’s paintings, depicts the artist herself. It shows the artist laying in her own canopy bed, sleeping, and a papier-mâché skeleton laying atop the canopy awake, watching, and strapped with explosives. She painted this particular work while in Mexico and hazarded to show how life and death in Mexican culture are intricately interwoven. Within Mexican culture, death is celebrated during a festival known as Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and in Kahlo’s unique perspective, she viewed the skeleton as a representation of mortality. Considering the painting was created during a time when the Western world was effectively killing each other in the Second World War, the concept of death and mortality was never far from anyone’s thoughts. Frida painted green plants all over her own body, which were symbolic of life and rebirth; this was significant because this painting was created around the same time that Kahlo and Rivera remarried and it helped her reputation as an artist grow significantly that year. The clouds in the background give this piece a surreal and airy feeling and give us the impression that the bed is floating in the sky—in Frida’s dream.

The Visual Elements of Color

Contrast

Yellow

Kahlo is known for vibrant, bold color choices, but this piece is oddly lacking in color in comparison. I think this was an important choice made by Kahlo to emphasize the importance of the yellow contrasting against the greys and whites, which reinforces the concept of the celebration of death as being a celebration of a life lived.

Symbol

Green

As I discussed briefly above, the plants that adorn Frida’s sleeping form are green—as is expected, nature is generally symbolized with green. As a result, Kahlo uses green as a symbol of life, rebirth, as it encompasses the true nature of Mother Earth and the cycle of life as a whole.

Mood

Yellow

Yellow is a color that suggests joy—this tracks with Kahlo’s style of using vibrant and bold colors to express her intentions within her paintings. As discussed above, this painting is intended to entertain the ideas of life and death, with life being something to be appreciative of and death is something to be celebrated, instead of mourned. I believe that Kahlo chose yellow here to show that despite hardships, she could still be joyful.

While I wouldn’t necessarily own this particular piece of art, Frida is a woman I highly admire—as a powerful feminist icon, she and others like her throughout the history of art and its evolution, have paved the way for women appearing in male-dominated career paths in a way that allows female artists like myself to not have any barriers in life. I sincerely enjoy this painting, because of the message that it imparts upon the viewer.

Marriage, Infidelity, and Communism

Kahlo first met Diego Rivera, the famed Mexican muralist, in 1922 while he was working on a project at her high school; she would frequently watch as he painted the mural The Creation in the school’s lecture hall and she allegedly vowed that she would someday have Rivera’s child. The two reconnected in 1928 when Rivera greatly encouraged her artwork and they became romantically involved. They were married a year after their reunion and Kahlo began traveling with Rivera wherever he had been commissioned for murals. By 1930 they were living in San Francisco, California before they went to New York for Rivera’s show at the Museum of Modern Art and ended up living in Detroit while Rivera worked on a commission with the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The time the couple spent in New York City in 1933, was controversial when Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Rivera to create the mural Man at the Crossroads in the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center—but Rockefeller demanded Rivera stop working after he painted Vladimir Lenin into the mural and later had the communist leader painted over. Kahlo and Rivera returned to Mexico months after the incident and moved to San Angel. The marriage was never an entirely happy one for Kahlo, who suffered near-constant heartache at the hands of Rivera who never missed an opportunity to be unfaithful to his wife and even bedding her younger sister, Cristina. As a result of the betrayal, Kahlo cut off most of her hair, which had become iconic for her at the time. Kahlo never seemed to catch a break and in 1934 she miscarried the child that she so desperately desired to have.

Despite having a tumultuous marriage and going through several periods of separation, Kahlo and Rivera came together to help Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia in 1937 after the famed Soviet communist was exiled; when the Trotskys came to stay with Kahlo and Rivera at Kahlo’s childhood home, Leon was always fearful that he would be assassinated by his old rival, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin—it’s even alleged that Kahlo and Trotsky had an affair during this time.

The two eventually got divorced in 1939, but remarried in 1940—it seems that despite their difficulties, they still wanted to be with each other.

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera and his twin brother were born in 1886 in Guanajuato, Mexico—unfortunately, Rivera’s twin died when they were both just two years old and shortly thereafter, his family moved to Mexico City. His parents were always incredibly encouraging when it came to his artistic ability and enrolled him in the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts when he was just twelve years old.

A memorable and featured mural artist during the twentieth century, Rivera was actively painting for fifty years of his life between the years 1907 and 1957. Despite having been born and raised in Mexico, Rivera actually spent an inordinate of his time in Europe and the United States fulfilling commissions on a case by case basis. During Rivera’s early work we see how he embraced Post-Impressionism and yet he somehow still retained his own unique perspective and, for lack of better words, his own voice. Like his wife, Frida Kahlo, Rivera was involved in the political scene, becoming a dedicated Marxist and joining the Mexican Communist Party in 1922.

While at the academy, Rivera studied traditional painting and sculpting techniques, and found among his peers a friend in Gerardo Murillo who would become the leading artist in the movement of Mexican Mural creation during the early 20th century, in which Rivera would become known for as well. Rivera and Murillo entered their first exhibition in 1905 and upon completion of his studies that same year, he went on to exhibit more than two dozen paintings at the annual San Carlos Academy show. By 1907, Rivera received a government sponsorship to study abroad in Europe and he took full advantage, first stopping to studying in Madrid to observe and practice realism while studying Eduardo Chicharro Aguera. After Madrid, Rivera moved on to Paris where he would continue living for several years and would eventually emerge as an avant-garde artist.

Throughout his career, Rivera continued to be a central force in the development of national art in Mexico, but his greatest legacy is considered the impact he made on the concept of public art—by creating scenes of American life on public buildings, Rivera inspired Franklin Delano Roosevelt to create the Works Projects Administration program. The WPA program was, in effect, a way to employ millions of job seekers to carry out public work projects, which encompassed the arts and culture, medicine and healthcare, as well as infrastructure.

Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (1947)

Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (1947) by Diego Rivera
Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (1947) by Diego Rivera

This mural was originally designed and painted at the behest of Carlos Obregón Santacilia for the Hotel Del Prado’s Versailles Restaurant in Mexico City, but when the hotel became uninhabitable after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, it was condemned for demolition and the mural was restored and moved to its own museum. This mural, in English, is entitled Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, which perfectly suits this joyous display.

It’s important to note that this mural doesn’t depict one random day in the Alameda Central park in Mexico City, but instead depicts famous people and events throughout the history of Mexico. In particular, some of the figures included are Frida Kahlo, José Guadalupe Posada, Francisco I. Madero, Benito Juárez, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Porfirio Díaz, Agustín de Iturbide, Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, Maximilian I of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, Antonio López de Santa Anna, Winfield Scott, Victoriano Huerta, José Martí, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, Hernán Cortés, Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda, and La Malinche. While the mural depicts historic events and famous individuals, it is mostly focused on the bourgeois complacency that directly preceded the Mexican Revolution of 1910—the elegantly dressed upper-class in direct juxtaposition to the indigenous family that is being forcefully beaten back by police batons—foreshadowing the violence to come.

The Visual Elements of Color

Contrast

Rainbow of Colors

The various different colors that appear in this mural are significant for contrast; Rivera knew how to draw the eye to certain aspects of the mural, allowing everything to stick out as unique homages to color.

Symbol

Rainbow of Colors

This painting with its large variety of colors is symbolic of all of the conflicting emotions and states of being according to human nature.

Mood

Rainbow of Colors

I find that Rivera’s choice to utilize a rainbow of colors in this piece was significant—bright yellows, reds, blues, and greens show this as a celebration of sorts—where all aspects of life are being embraced—sadness, joy, passion, rebirth.

I thoroughly enjoy the spirit of Rivera’s artwork and if it were not for his character as a human being, I would probably be proud to own a replica of any one of his works, but I am the type of person that can only look past character flaws to a minor extent.

David Alfaro Siqueiros

Born José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros on December 29, 1896, in Camargo, Chihuahua as the second of three children. Born to a family with a rich father, when his mother died when he was only four years old, his father sent him and his siblings to live with their paternal grandparents. His rebellious sister was his earliest influence and she encouraged him to resist their father’s religious ideologies and become curious about new political ideas such as Marxism. In 1911, at the age of fifteen, while attending the Academy of San Carlos of the National Academy of Fine arts, Siqueiros became involved in a student strike. They were demanding changes to the school’s teaching methodology and the impeachment of the school’s director.

By the time Siqueiros was eighteen years old, he and several of his artist peers decide to join Venustiano Carranza’s Constitutional Army, which was in direct opposition to the government during President Victoriano Huerta. President Huerta fell in 1914 and it was then that Siqueiros became obsessive with the idea of post-revolutionary fighting; being a part of the military afforded him the opportunity to travel and be exposed to a Mexican culture that he had never before experienced.

David is best known for his large murals and frescoes—aside from Rivera, he is considered one of the most famous Mexican muralists and was also a member of the Mexican Communist Party—unlike Rivera and Kahlo, however, Siqueiros was a Stalinist and a supporter of the Soviet Union and reported led an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Trotsky in May 1940.

Echo of a Scream (1937)

Echo of a Scream (1937) by David Alfaro Siqueiros
Echo of a Scream (1937) by David Alfaro Siqueiros

This iconic painting was created in 1937 in Mexico, before Siqueiro even started working against Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship. The painting specifically was created to represent the aftermath of a war and the trauma of human loss—in particular the aftermath of the Spanish civil war. There is opportunity to look at this painting in two completely separate ways, both literally and metaphorically as a commentary on war.

There are two baby heads, one enlarged and seemingly floating, the other coming out of the mouth of the larger head. This child sits in a literal warzone of rubble, spent shells, broken cannons, and shrapnel; the child is crying as a result of the devastation that surrounds him.

Contrast

Red

The significance of the contrasting shocking red against the dark and dismal greys and blacks is enormous—there is a reason why Siqueiros only emphasized one color. This highlights the dark and dreary state of the world around the subject of the painting.

Symbol

Red

The red in this piece provides us the flash of an idea of not only blood, but pain and suffering as well. The depth of its involvement with it’s subject, the child wears this symbol like the garment itself, as a removable or changeable item.

Mood

Blakc & Grey

The blacks and greys in this piece bring to mind war, suffering, loss, and destruction for me—they highlight anguish and destroyed lives, motherless and homeless children as is depicted here.

I find that Siqueiros created some incredibly and thought provoking artwork and I really would just like to understand his messages behind them. I think his work is tragically beautiful and I would love to own copies of his work, especially this one in particular.

Work Cited

“#14 The Dream (The Bed).” Humanitas Chalk Festival, chatsworthchalkfest.weebly.com/14-the-dream-the-bed.html.

Arcq, Teresa, and Jennifer Field. Surrealism in Mexico. Di Donna, 2019. .

“David Alfaro Siqueiros.” 81 Artworks, Bio & Shows on Artsy, www.artsy.net/artist/david-alfaro-siqueiros.

“Diego Rivera, His Life and Art.” Diego Rivera – Paintings, Murals, Biography of Diego Rivera, www.diegorivera.org.

Editorial, Artsy, and Alexxa Gotthardt. Surrealism Reached Mind-Bending New Heights in Mexico. 25 June 2019, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-mexico-surrealist-mecca.

Editors, Biography.com. “Diego Rivera.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 16 June 2020, www.biography.com/artist/diego-rivera.

Frida Kahlo and Her Paintings, www.fridakahlo.org/.

Categories
Artists & Artwork Entertainment News Non-Fiction

The Lasting Effects of War on the World’s Perspectives

The Lasting Effects of War on the World’s Perspectives

In this installment of Explorations in Art, my selection of artists is a little eclectic, but that was done intentionally. I wanted to show the audacity of expression through different perspectives. The rippling effects of World War II through the eyes of artists who are both directly and indirectly associated with the atrocities of War. You’ll see this eclectic mixture of Samuel Bak, John W. Mills, and Banksy all speak on behalf of a Post-Modern practice through painting, sculpting, and tagging respectively.

Samuel Bak

A Lifetime of Tragedy and Art

Samuel Bak was born in Wilno, Poland on August 12, 1933, and was recognized from an early age as having artistic talent—while he has described his family as having been secular, he also made it clear that they were proud of their Jewish identity and heritage. By the time Bak was six years old in 1939, World War II had begun and the town of Wilno had been transferred from Poland to Lithuania. On June 24, 1941, Wilno was formally occupied by the Germans and as Jews, Bak and his family were forced to live in the Ghetto; at the young age of nine years old, Bak held his first exhibition inside the Ghetto, which can only be seen as a silver lining on a dark cloud. While living in the Ghetto, Bak and his mother sought refuge in a Benedictine convent where a Catholic nun named Maria Mikulska attempted to help them. They were soon deported to a forced labor camp, where they again sought shelter again in the convent where they remained hidden until the end of the war.

Samuel and his mother were the only members of his extensive family that survived the war—sadly his father, Jonas, had been shot by the Germans in July, 1944 a few days before Samuel’s liberation from the camps.

“When in 1944 the Soviets liberated us, we were among two hundred of Vilna’s (Wilno’s) survivors—from a community that had counted over seventy or eighty thousand.”

Samuel Bak on his liberation from forced labor camp

Due to their status as pre-war Polish citizens, they were allowed to leave Soviet-occupied Wilno and ended up traveling to central Poland, where they briefly lived in Łódź, but they soon left Poland altogether and traveled to the American-occupied zone of Germany. Bak and his mother then lived in Displaced Persons camps in Germany from 1945 to 1948, where he spent most of that time at the Landsberg am Lech DP camp in Germany. It was there that he painted a self-portrait shortly before he rejected his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. Bak studied painting in Munich during his period in American-occupied Germany, where he painted A Mother and Son (1947), which reflected some of his darkest memories of the Holocaust and their escape from Soviet-occupied Poland. By 1948, Bak and his mother immigrated to Israel and in 1952 Bak was studying art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

Samuel’s art influences were fairly consistent throughout his lifetime and career, as a conceptual artist with several elements of post-modernism, he has the ability to utilized various different styles and visual vernaculars, such as surrealism, analytical cubism, pop art, as well as blatant influence from the old masters. Bak had the sensational ability to employ allegory and metaphor within his paintings because he never directly painted the scenes of mass death that he witnessed directly during his time in forced labor camps and other experiences during the Holocaust. Instead of painting such obvious visuals of evil and genocide, he would paint toys in place of the murdered children who had played with them, he would paint books instead of the murdered people who read them.

Bak briefly served in the Israel Defense Forces and then continued his studies in Paris in 1956 at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, before he spent periods of time in Rome, Paris, Switzerland, and Israel before he decided to permanently settle in the United States. In the late 1980s, Bak finally opened up about his paintings, where he admitted that his works conveyed a sense of a world that had been shattered. It wasn’t until 2001 when Bak returned to Wilno (now Vilnius) for the first time since immigrating and he has since returned several times.

Return to Vilnius: Soutine Street (2001)

Soutine Street (2001) by Samuel Bak
Soutine Street (2001) by Samuel Bak

I chose this particular oil on canvas by Samuel Bak because it reflects a piece of his childhood, in both a nostalgic yet traumatized way. We see the view of this street, that Bak actually visited in 2001—it’s uncertain where this painting was created, but it’s likely that he painted it while in Vilnius, Lithuania when he revisited his childhood home for this first time in decades.

When we look at this painting we see that even in his later years, Bak continues to pull influence from his tumultuous upbringing. While the street and buildings aren’t painted in ruin, we do see destruction in the form of angles and disjointed buildings. This is reminiscent of Picasso’s cubism and surrealism but combined to showcase Bak’s own Post Modern style.

One particular thing that I have noticed while studying what seems like an endless production of heartwrenching paintings by this survivor, we see a teacup. In fact, some of the paintings here, notwithstanding, he created an entire series around the teacup.

View more about <em>Soustine Street</em> (2001) …

In some of Bak’s other paintings, we see the motif of the cup taking center stage and in fact, appears in over forty pieces he has created—in some the cups are stacked precariously upon one another, suggesting anxiety or the uncertainty of a situation, other pieces show the cups overturned, discarded, and crumbling. None of these cups, including the one shown in Soutine Street, are clean, indeed none of them are fully intact. It has been suggested that these cups represent, “tools of consumption, they help us imbibe. We use them to portion out manageable amounts and then employ them as aids in taking those quantities into ourselves,” (Burgoon). Wherever we see a cup in Bak’s work, we more often than not, see a landscape that is both dreamlike and desolate, they feel like memories that have descended down onto the canvas, into manageable experiences of what he must have gone through as a child.

View more about the Elements of Art …

The Visual Element of Color as Symbol

Red, Orange, & Brown

The rusty red that makes up the roofs of Soutine Street, we see a message of anxiety, fear, and violence as if reflecting on the nature of what happened there during the war. The red also signifies rage, and the orange speaks of endurance. The browns that are intermingling with the reds and oranges give this painting a feeling of earthiness, humility, and hard work.

Grey

In contrast to the warm and fiery tones of the red and orange, Bak added in the greys that make up the building walls, the cobblestones, and the rubble surrounding the street. It gives the audience the benefit of a gentle calmness—but the kind of calmness that comes after a fire, or a destructive storm.

The Visual Element of Color as Mood

Anxiety

I know this is just a painting of a street, but for some reason, I feel anxious just look at this painting; perhaps it’s the disjointed edges of the buildings, perhaps it’s the reddish hues that bathe the rooftops and towers.

Peace

The bluish greys in this painting show us what it feels like to contrast anxiety with peace; you have to give your focus completely to the stone buildings and rubble that are depicted. The color highlights the disjointed, broken nature of a city street post-war.

The Visual Element of Texture

I always love it when I can see the texture of the canvas through the brush strokes, but the cobblestones on the street look like they’re popping out of the painting. That was really striking to me as if it was bringing attention to the ground.

The Creation of Wartime III (1999-2008)

The Creation of Wartime III (1999-2008) by Samuel Bak
The Creation of Wartime III (1999-2008) by Samuel Bak

The Creation of Wartime III (1999-2008) shows a man lying atop a pile of destruction, in the same position as Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam (1512).

This is of course done intentionally to reflect the role of religion within the history of war, where this painting’s Adam is leaning next to missiles, in a building that has only been left half-standing. This Adam, however, is reaching towards an empty silhouette, which in my humble opinion signifies an absence of God.

This is perhaps even a commentary on how God forsakes people in wartime, or how it feels to be the target of a genocidal dictator—this Adam is incredible weary, his reach towards this void is languishing with this feeling of hopelessness.

View more about the <em>Creation of Wartime III</em> (1999-2008)

Taking a closer look at the destruction that lays at our Adam’s feet, we see the shoes and the cups, both tattered—these two are a common motif within Bak’s body of work. The cup here is a symbol of consumption, or being consumed; the life of Adam has been consumed by the tragedies of war.

In 2011, Bak created a series featuring Adam and Eve—this series was comprised of 125 paintings, drawings, and mixed media works, where the artist casts the “first couple” as lone survivors of a biblical narrative of a God who birthed humanity and promised to never destroy it. Unable to make good on the greatest of all literary promises, God becomes another one of the relics that displaced persons carry around with them in the disorienting aftermath of world war.

Many viewers have described Bak as a tragedian, where he narrated the disintegration and disillusionment of the chosen people—he drew upon biblical heroes and conveyed them through a visual legacy that was first immortalized by Renaissance artists. His artistic expression, even to this day, evokes the destruction and dehumanization of the Jewish people which make up his childhood memories and continue to haunt him today. His art is his way of being able to speak upon the unspeakable atrocities that happened during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazi party.

The most important thing an artist can tell is the truth about himself.

Samuel Bak

When viewing the artwork of Bak, seeing how crystalline the depiction of WWII is within his expression, it is easy to mourn the type of childhood he clearly had—themes of heartbreak, loss, and grief are evident and yet Bak himself is not self-pitying. His work reveals a certain optimism in the future and in no uncertain terms serves as a warning of our world’s history; this is a message of hope, that we should never give up in the face of injustice.

View more about the Elements of Art …

The Visual Element of Color as Form

Red

Bak’s Adam lays upon a red blanket, another deliberate use of a color that signifies a struggle, or battle—here we see his resignation because Adam isn’t curious in this painting as he is depicted in Creation of Adam, in fact, here he is laying down in surrender. The destruction has already been done, there is nothing that can be done now.

Brown

Here, the browns are what the rubble is made out of—an illustration perhaps, of the hard work, and earthy nature of the wood. A nod to the hardship of anyone who was not part of Hitler’s master race.

Grey

In the distance we see industrial stacks with large billowing plumes of grey smoke and we can also see that it is disspersing in the sky. A symbol to me of turmoil that has since past, but that it also lingers despite our attempts to move forward and heal humanity. Unfortunately, progress as is known in this modern era comes with a price—destruction has been its price so far and I believe this is where we have to say enough.

The Visual Element of Color as Mood

Sadness

The sadness to me here is evident, I feel as if the blues in this painting are telling us about the grief of loss during war.

Peace

This painting also instills in me a sense of peace and calm; the kind of peace that comes after great turmoil.

The Visual Element of Texture

This is another instance where we can see the texture of the canvas behind the paint, but the texture here is more than just canvas, it is the texture of the broken wooden frame and the crumbling bricks. These elements give this painting life, like the texture of the fabric upon Bak’s Adam, or the prevailing greens of nature beneath the rubble.

Samuel Bak and the Photograph of the Warsaw Boy …

The Icon of Loss: The Haunting Child of Samuel Bak

Haunting indeed is this iconic photograph of a young Jewish boy standing aside his family in a Warsaw ghetto. I present to you Samuel Bak’s Icon of Loss series where he focused specifically on this young boy and everything he represented as an icon of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. I am not including this series for analysis, but rather for contemplation—an observation of innocence in a horrendous moment in history.

This is a well-known photograph taken during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising—this boy holds his hands in the air as a submachine gun is pointed at him by SS-Rottenführer Josef Blösche. These unfortunate families had hidden when the ghetto was being emptied into forced labor camps but were later caught and forced out by Nazi troops. While it’s not known exactly where this was taken, nor who it was taken by, it is known that after it was taken, all of these Jewish families were taken to Umschlagplatz and then deported to Majdanek extermination camp—Treblinka.

As I was working on my last series of paintings based on the well-known photo of the Jewish boy from the Warsaw Ghetto, I could not help reflecting on the countless millions of children that perish in man’s senseless conflicts, wars, and genocides—past and present. I thought, “What an unspeakable abuse of our young innocents, our little just ones!”

Samuel Bak

When I look upon the facial expression of this child, I don’t see fear as much as I see sorrow; he knows, at least to some extent, that his future is bleak and unavoidable, and I believe Bak saw that as well. This sacrificial lamb that he chose to represent the spirit of loss and trauma within his artwork proved to be an incredibly touching and emotional icon. As one of the most iconic photographs taken during the Holocaust, this boy came to represent children in the Holocaust, in addition to all Jewish victims. When I look at Bak’s work I am taken aback, by the level of detail that comes together in such a simple way and yet expresses such profound ideas. I would be proud to have any of Bak’s works on my wall.


John W. Mills

John William Mills was born March 4, 1933 in London, England, and is considered a Post Modern English sculptor. He studied artwork at Hammersmith School of Art between 1947 and 1954, then he attended The Royal College of Art from 1956 through 1960. While most of his thirty public sculptures are in London, or elsewhere in England, there are a couple of his sculptures in the United States as well—as such he is considered an internationally acclaimed sculptor.

BLITZ: National Firefighters Memorial (1991)

This monument was originally drafted in concept by Cyril Demarne after being commissioned by the Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust in 1990. John W. Mills sculpted this bronze statue installation of three firefighters as they are fighting a fire at the height of the Blitz in London during WWII. On May 4, 1991, The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, unveiled this WWII memorial in Old Change Court.

This sculpture was created in London, as a tribute to the men and women who helped in the war effort at home—these British patriots fought the fires that threatened to destroy the whole of London as the bombs dropped during the London Blitz. When the city was struck by bombs on fifty-seven consecutive nights in a sustained campaign of bombing, these men and women were charged with keeping their city from burning down to the ground.

It was decided in 1998 to make the memorial a national monument to pay respect to a broader group. Now, BLITZ is more commonly referred to as the National Firefighters Memorial to pay homage to all of the Firefighters who have served as firefighters through the United Kingdom and were killed in the line of duty. As a result, the memorial was moved from its original site elevated and about four feet; the names of all fallen firefighters including those killed during peacetime were added to the base.

View more of <em>BLITZ: National Firefighter Memorial</em> (1991) …

A re-dedication ceremony was held on September 16, 2003, where Princess Royal, Princess Anne, a patron to the Firefighters’ Memorial Charitable Trust was seen in attendance. The ceremony focused on the 1,192 names that had been added to the inscription in the bronze plates at the base of the memorial. An annual service is now held in remembrance of the fallen, on the anniversary of the start of the Blitz of London.

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The Visual Element of Form as Model and Casting

Here we see the three firefighters cast in bronze, it is assumed, knowing the style of Mills, that he modeled this statue in a more malleable material—there is the indication that he works with plaster when first shaping his sculptures. The plaster modeling would have given him more freedom to express the overall message of the sculpture. This technique allowed Mills to create his full vision without concern of making mistakes before he reinforced the sculpture with the final element of bronze casting.

The Visual Element of Three-Dimensional Shape

The three-dimensional shape of BLITZ gives the audience a chance to view this piece of art from an exhaustive number of angles—the details can be more closely examined, touched, and otherwise thoroughly experienced.

The Visual Element of Texture

This statue is cast in a smooth bronze metal, but the detail of the statue is what creates the texture on the firefighters as well as the rocks and ground that constitute the base of the statue. With the nature of bronze, the statue has experienced oxidation which also causes the surface to roughen.

Monument to the Women of World War II (2005)

This is The Monument to the Women of World War II (2005) which was created by John W. Mills in London—it is situated on Whitehall in London. The original idea for the memorial came from retired Major David McNally Robertson in 1997, after being informed that the United Kingdom was one of the few countries that did not have a national monument dedicated to the work that women took over during World War II.

The initial design was one where a female Air Raid Warden was depicted sheltering children, but it was decided that the design was too complicated and so the idea was simplified into the final design that we see on display now. The bronze monument was created in London and its installation stands twenty-two feet tall, sixteen feet long, and six feet wide—there are seventeen individual sets of clothing and uniforms that surround the entire monument which symbolizes the hundreds of different jobs that women undertook during the war effort. Among the uniforms, we see the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Women’s Land Army, a welder, a police officer, as well as a nurse.

View more about <em>The Monument Women of World War II</em> (2005)

Raising the Funds for the Monument

There were several campaigns to raise funds for the Monument to the Women of World War II, the first of which was led by women who had formerly been gunners. They ended up founding a fundraising trust with a journalist and documentary producer, as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Boothroyd, Dame Vera Lynn, and Princess Royal, Princess Anne. Boothroyd became the patron of the fundraising trust, where Dame Vera Lynn and Princess Royal became vice-patrons along with several others.

The public raised over £300,000 an additional £934,115 was given toward the cost of the bronze sculpture by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, and another £8,000 was raised by Baroness Boothroyd. Interesting side story, is about how Boothroyd won the money when she appeared on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in 2002. What was left to be funded was raised by the Memorial to the Women of World War II Fund, a charitable fund that was based out of York.

The Unveiling Ceremony

This monument was officially unveiled just two days after the 7/7 London Bombings—which was a series of coordinated Islamist suicides in London, which targeted commuters in the city’s public transport system during morning rush hour. Queen Elizabeth II herself unveiled it as part of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II—the memorial’s patron and vice-patrons, Baroness Boothroyd, Baroness Thatcher, Dame Vera Lynn, the Defence Secretary John Reid, and several female war veterans were in attendance.

This monument is dedicated to all the women who served our country and to the cause of freedom, in uniform and on the home front. I hope that future generations who pass this way will ask themselves: ‘what sort of women were they?’ and look at our history for the answer.

Baroness Boothroyd, patron of the Women of World War II trust and former Speaker of the House of Commons

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The Visual Element of Form as Model and Casting

Like his sculpture BLITZ, Mills sculpted this monument out of a more forgiving material such as plaster or clay before he cast it in bronze. I think it’s incredibly interesting, the method that is used to create the final result of this work of art.

The Visual Element of Three-Dimensional Shape

What I find interesting about the shape of this sculpture is the message the shape itself sends—these are all uniforms without women in them and while it can be argued that they are empty to honor the women who fell in the line of duty, this monument is in dedication to all women who took charge during uncertain times and put in their effort where they could. To me, these uniforms are vacated just like the positions these women held were vacated after the men came back from the war. This speaks to me of two separate forms of sacrifice, the initial sacrifice they made going into these career fields where they may have previously had no experience and then sacrificing their careers once the men came back home to claim their jobs.

The Visual Element of Texture

The texture of this enormous monument is that of smooth bronze, where texture only forms through oxidation of the metal, or by the detail present on the uniforms themselves.

Not being a fan of sculptures I can still appreciate the work that Mills put in to create such beautiful depictions of life at its hardest. While I personally don’t connect on a deep level with Mills as I do with Bak or even Banksy, his work is still profound—I just wouldn’t necessarily want to own a sculpture by Mills.


Banksy

Outspoken and (still) Anonymous

Banksy’s legacy is one of rebellion, anarchy, and of course what makes him most famous—his anonymity. He is the type of scoff at the ridiculous amounts of money people are willing to pay, not for the appreciation of art but, the status which it gives the person who owns it. So while Banksy is known by name world-wide, for having installed his thought-provoking street art in nearly every corner of the world, he has maintained his anonymity through careful planning and an ironclad trust in his inner circle.

There are, of course, a few things that we know about Banksy, and these are things that have been confirmed—he is originally from the city of Bristol in the United Kingdom where he began his career tagging through the city during the 1990s. His journey from that point to what we know about him now is that his works have become much more sophisticated via the use of stencils, and his paintings now have a political message. We know that his first large-scale mural was entitled The Mild Mild West, which was painted in 1999 on a brick surface in Stokes Croft.

Banksy painted it in broad daylight over the course of three days and it is still in place today, along with several of his other works.

Season’s Greeting (2018)

Season's Greeting (2018) by Banksy
Season’s Greeting (2018) by Banksy

View more about <em>Season’s Greeting</em> (2018)

This satirical Christmas piece was painted upon a garage in the Welsh industrial town of Port Talbot—his traditional graffiti style with spray paint, a found surface, and some pre-made stencils classify him as a graffiti artist, but he’s a graffiti artist with a message to deliver.

It is wrapped around two corners of a brick garage and at first, may appear to be a sweet boy enjoying the fresh snow of Christmas. With his cap on, and his tongue out, we can see that he plans to go for a ride on his sleigh.

The full image, however, can only be seen once you turn the corner of the garage, where you can see that it’s not a lovely white Christmas, but instead a raging dumpster fire that is littering ash upon the child.

Banksy confirmed this work was his when he posted a video (see right) which featured the street art on his Instagram account. The final touch to this particular piece is when the camera filming the artwork pans up and reveals the close proximity of an industrial smokestack.

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The Visual Element of Color

Black & White

We see Banksy’s favorite method of isolating the most important aspects of his street art by putting most of the painting in black and white.

The black emphasizes a feeling of fear, grief, and mourning. The white represents innocence and youth. These colors come together in this image to represent a disjointed combination of the two.

Pink

There is only a small tongue *blep* or showing of pink in this painting, but the presence of the color provides significant focus to that particular aspect of the painting.

Without knowing what is happening around the corner of this painting, it would seem that the pink is telling us to pay attention to the childhood experience of catching a snowflake on your tongue.

Orange

The orange in this painting is an incredibly important symbol here—it is the color of the inferno, which is fitting since it is emphasizing fire.

Orange is the color of change—but that doesn’t mean it is representing good change in this usage.

The Visual Element of Texture

We see this painting has been laid upon a brick surface, something that is harsh and solid. There is no flexibility to concrete like there is in a canvas, but perhaps that is part of Banksy’s message. This world is harsh and inflexible, but this painting depicts the outcome of such a world, where the innocent experiences of youth are corrupted and polluted by the things we have introduced to the environment and further abused it with.

The Visual Element of Shape

Shape is an important aspect of Banksy’s work, the silhouettes in this painting are indicative and simple, they represent things that we can all identify with and it makes it even more powerful as a message.

Untitled (2019)

What is truly interesting about Untitled (2019) and indeed all of Banksy’s work, is that until Banksy takes credit for them we’re not entirely sure if they’re actually his. It might be labeled as a “suspected” Banksy, but truly it’s the nature of his anonymity that makes it unclear about what art is really Banksy and what might just be a copycat.

View more about <em>Untitled</em> (2019)

So what do we really know about Untitled (2019)?

We know it appeared at the Marble Arch in London, which means that it was painted there since it’s street art—this location is where the Extinction Rebellion protests over climate change had been taking place at the time of its installment.

While it’s not officially known whether or not this is a true Banksy, it fits his style of artwork and it sends a message, as his work is known to do. This particular painting depicts a small girl sitting crouched next to a sapling with the words, “From this moment, despair ends and tactics begin,” which (maybe) Banksy quoted from Raoul Venigem’s book The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967).

This particular protest brought in over 1,100 arrests and sixty-nine charges for people who were involved in the protest that occurred in central London on April 15, 2019.

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The Visual Element of Color

Black & White

Black and white work together in this painting like much of Banksy’s other artwork to created shape and form in this painting, but they also signify innocence and fear, a common theme within his work.

Since most of Banksy’s art installations are some type of social commentary, his pieces generally involve innocent images of children with some type of evocative imagery in the surrounding scene. This particular painting is no different.

Green

Most of Banksy’s street art focuses on minimal color—his use of black and white as the main colors allow him to add in a pop of one additional color to add focus, or emphasize a point.

This particular painting has a pop of green—which makes sense, it was in reference to nature, an obvious choice given the environment in which it came about. The little green plant adds emphasis to the protests over climate change by the Extinction Rebellion.

The Visual Element of Texture

This interesting piece of street art is on a cement slab, a hard but smooth surface which is in direct contrast to the softness of the subject matter. There is always the narrative of a concrete jungle, but this dives deeper than that. This little girl in her solemn state sits next to a freshly sprouted seedling, two soft and vulnerable lifeforms upon a concrete surface that has been known to scrape knees and initially keep nature at bay.

The Visual Element of Shape

Like we see in most Banksy art installations—or at least the street art pieces he has done with spray-paint—he uses basic shapes and silhouettes to convey these figures. The silhouette of the trowel adds emphasis to hard work, in order to make a change for our climate and for our planet, we will have to do the work ourselves.

View more of Banksy’s artwork …

I find Banksy’s work pretty interesting, especially his spray-paint street art. I am generally more left-oriented when it comes to political ideology, so I feel as if I connect to his art in a way he meant for people to connect with it. Then again, that could be pure garbage since we don’t know for a fact who Banksy really is. While I would definitely want to own a print of some of Banksy’s artwork, in particular, his Season’s Greeting (2018), I have conflicted feelings about it because I know how Banksy has reacted to his artwork being owned in the past.

Although there are conflicting narrative on who Banksy is and why he does what he does, one thing is certainly clear, Banksy is an entertainer in his own way.

Work Cited

Bak, Samuel, et al. The Art of the Question: Paintings by Samuel Bak. Pucker Art Publications, 2009.

Burgoon, Samantha. “Told & Foretold: The Cup in the Art of Samuel Bak, at Pucker Gallery.” Https://Www.fjordsreview.com, 29 May 2014, www.fjordsreview.com/reviews/art-samuel-bak.html.

Ellsworth-Jones, Will. “The Story Behind Banksy.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Feb. 2013, www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-story-behind-banksy-4310304/.

Fewell, Danna Nolan., et al. Icon of Loss: the Haunting Child of Samuel Bak. Pucker Art Publications, 2009.

“John W. Mills – Sculpture.” John W Mills – Sculpture, johnwmills.com/index.html.

The National. “Is Banksy behind This New Artwork in London?” The National, The National, 26 Apr. 2019, www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/art/is-banksy-behind-this-new-artwork-in-london-1.854054.

“The Gallery.” Facing History and Ourselves, www.facinghistory.org/illuminations-art-samuel-bak/gallery.

“Samuel Bak – 17 Artworks – Painting.” Www.wikiart.org, www.wikiart.org/en/samuel-bak.

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Artists & Artwork Entertainment News Non-Fiction

The Early 20th Century: The Age of Anxiety

It’s quite interesting to think that the first half of the twentieth century dealt with, at length, the same issues that persist today, even if they are presently not as violently represented. If we’re to be honest, the Age of Anxiety has not even begun to come to a close—the perpetual darkness of inhumanity, those who would take and take if only ever for themselves, so that they could gleefully offer the crumbs leftover to the rest of the people. The imbalance of money and power only exists to illustrate the tumultuousness of a world population who by and by beginning to blame others who find themselves at the same kind of disadvantage. Overwhelmingly toxic white patriarchy is largely to blame for the inequities and inequalities that are still troublingly present in America today.

At the beginning of the twentieth-century America was definitely dealing with its ups and downs, not only on a global scale but also within its own borders. The First World War was the first of many troubling times for the United States to deal with as a nation—this war raged from July 28, 1914, until November 11, 1918—but it was far from the last. The age of Prohibition was a harsh, thirteen years where the honest man or woman couldn’t legally enjoy an adult beverage from 1920 to 1933. This time period brought about mob bosses, boot-legging, and a criminal underground that now is looked upon with a certain glamour—as if the Great Depression didn’t begin four years before the ending of Prohibition.

The Great Depression hit everyone—although some less than others—and on October 24, 1929, the United States would see yet another disturbingly miserable time, punctuated only by the beginning of World War II, on September 1, 1939.

Street Scene, New Orleans (1936)

Walker Evans

American Photography

Let me preface this particular medium with the age-old query—is photography really artwork? In comparison to works that have come from the depths of the artist’s imagination, frescos that took years to complete can photography truly be considered a work of art? The supposed effortlessness nature of the medium doesn’t really measure up to the same standards as painting or sculpting, because the art of photography is measured by different standards altogether—after all, a good photograph takes more than just pointing and clicking. Photography takes a special eye—photographers at the beginning of the twentieth century didn’t have the option to obsess over every single detail of the scene they were capturing as we do with digital displays. That means that the photographer had to be able to identify their perfect opportunity for composition and being able to capture it at the exact right moment.

Street Scene (1936) by Walker Evans
Street Scene (1936) by Walker Evans

Art is creativity and photography
is best when captured by a true artist.

Walker Evans—Perspectives of Hardship

American Photography, especially in the years leading up to World War II largely depicted life during the later years of the Great Depression—seen here, Walker Evans’ Street Scene, New Orleans (1936), just three years before the beginning of the Second World War, we see an African American man, in somber juxtaposition to an otherwise happy caricature of a white woman on an advertisement—only one of the obvious displays of imbalance of representation at the time. This gelatin silver print, of a photograph taken by Evans, is just one example of how an image can be worth a thousand words.

In a single frame, Evans displayed not only his superb ability to compose, crop, and frame his images to offer a striking narrative that emphasized the dichotomy of privilege, class, and race in the American South. This image, in a sense, is representative of a time it was still illegal for interracial relationships and where lynching was still not criminalized on a federal level.

Surprisingly, this scene would not even come close to touching upon the narrative of some of the more atrocious events that would ravage the modern world—in truth, despite this being an amazing commentary on the social injustice of the mid to late 1930s, it would serve to only briefly touch upon what would follow for the black community in their struggle to be recognized as equals to their white counterparts.

Before the Parachute Opens (1939)

Tullio Crali
Before the Parachute Opens (1939) by Tullio Crali
Before the Parachute Opens (1939) by Tullio Crali

Futurismo

Futurism originated in Italy in the early 20th century—it provided a focused emphasis on speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects that were symbolic of modernized technology. This movement really was a reflection of an obsession over the newness of these developing technologies—in the shadow of the inadequacies of military technologies during World War I, there came about a realization that in order to win future wars there would be a large need for newer technologies that would allow for more devastation in a shorter period of time.

Despite the fact that Futurism was largely an Italian phenomenon, futurism had parallel movements in Russia, which then further developed on its own, but it had limited impact in other countries, which generally ended up only inspiring other movements in art. Futurists weren’t limited to paintings, however, this movement was practiced in every medium of art, including sculpting, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, urban design, theater, film, fashion, textiles, literature, music, architecture, and oddly enough—cooking!

Aeropittura—Perspectives of Flight

When America’s Great Depression finally ended in 1941, the Second World War was still underway and I believe this particular oil on canvas is a fair representation of Futurism’s narrative on World War II. Before the Parachute Opens was painted in 1939 by Tullio Crali, it is specifically considered a part of Aeropittura (Aeropainting), a major expression during the second generation of Italian Futurism which was a mainstay in art between 1929 and the early 1940s. This particular expression romanticized technology and the excitement of flight—with a new somewhat geometrical perspective on the thrill of flight.

Nose Dive on the City (1939) by Tullio Crali
Nose Dive on the City (1939) by Tullio Crali

In 1928 Tullio Crali experienced flight for the first time and it left him wanting more; his enthusiasm for flying and his eventual experience as a pilot indeed influenced his artwork and in 1929 he officially joined the movement of Futurism. When the manifesto for Aeropittura was signed that same year, the founders stated that “the changing perspectives of flight constitute an absolutely new reality that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by a terrestrial perspective,” and that “paining from this new reality requires a profound contempt for detail and a need to synthesize and transfigure everything.”

Crali’s most famous work, Nose Dive on the City (1939) we can see what it is like from the perspective of the pilot, with the buildings included for perspective on the often terrifying nature of flight which was a profound new element in the art world—views outside of the normal earthbound perspective.

In Before the Parachute Opens, we see the literal moment before the parachute of a paratrooper would open—or at least, what it looked like from the artist’s perspective from his own experience flying. I can see how this painting might be easy to pass by if you were viewing it among other works of art—the illusion of the geometry almost hides the scene taking place within the painting. The geometrical focus within this painting also creates the illusion of movement, with emphasis on the paratrooper’s arms and the semi-opaque triangular cut points to the ground within a rural area. The free-fall that is happening at the moment captured here is realistic enough to, after spending thoughtful meditation upon it, instill within the audience the thrilling sensation of falling. It’s truly enough to give you the chills.

The End of an Era of a World at War

When the end of WWI came on September 2, 1945, the world was forever changed and humanity was in desperate need of intense healing on a global scale—the decades to follow would bring that at an agonizingly slow pace. Of course, WWII wasn’t the end of war in the world, it wasn’t even the end of American influence in war—but perhaps we can leave that for another day.

The Struggle III: Assassination (1969)

Jacob Lawrence
The Struggle III: Assassination (1969) by Jacob Lawrence
The Struggle III: Assassination (1969) by Jacob Lawrence

The Harlem Renaissance

Between 1919 and 1930, we saw the development of African American ideas being expressed through the visual arts, music, dance, theater, and literature—this was of course centered in Harlem in Manhattan, NY. At the time it was called the New Negro Movement and was an immediate important influence that flew through the rest of the country and then, the world. With an expansive number of mediums in which this particular movement could be expressed, we got great painters such as Jacob Lawrence, as well as amazing singers such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong—men and women who paved the way for other African American creatives within the oppressive United States to express themselves and their perspective of being Black in a country where their future was uncertain.

While this particular painting was not created during the Harlem Renaissance it is still considered part of that style, as Lawrence’s style revolved around that era and on. His artwork depicted atrocities that were committed against black Americans throughout the twenties, thirties, through the civil rights movement, and up until his death in 2010.

Jacob Lawrence in Painting the Struggles

Jacob Lawrence was a painter within the Harlem Renaissance movement who not only painted amazing artwork, he based his artwork on actual history. It is said that throughout his incredibly long career, Lawrence spent long hours at the public library sifting through historical texts, memoirs, newspapers, as well as attending established history clubs. He then took these historical narratives and translated them into images that would provide a relatable message.

Now, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day wasn’t written during the Harlem Renaissance, but it certainly embodies the spirit of the time about which it speaks. I highly recommend this book, it’s highly moving and allows a perspective that would otherwise be unattainable for white people in general—at least, in this white girl’s opinion, it does.

When we look at the body of work created by the African American community, we see such colorful cultural influence and power that provides incredible commentary on the crushing oppression that has been endured, but the joyful spirit that still remains despite the lengths that those in power have gone to, to keep them underfoot.

As a result of slavery, segregation, civil rights movements, and now Black Lives Matter—we have the hauntingly beautiful art, music, and literature that illustrates the tragedy of the lottery of birth and how that translates to a wave of justified anger that after generations of disgusting treatment, has finally boiled over.

The Age of Anxiety Continues in the 21st Century

So, this is one of the things that has kept me from getting this article up before now. We, as Americans, are still awaiting the results from the 2020 election and this seems to be a defining moment for this country. This is a nation in crisis and at this point I’m not sure what the future is going to look like, going from here. Right now, to be perfectly honest, we are fighting for the soul of this nation and for those of you who are reading this and not a resident of the United States—we’re sorry that it took this long to do something about it.

Works Cited

“Art Movement: Harlem Renaissance.” Artland Magazine, 31 Mar. 2020, magazine.artland.com/art-movement-harlem-renaissance/.

“Harlem Renaissance Art Overview.” The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/movement/harlem-renaissance/.

“Jacob Lawrence and the Harlem Renaissance.” MOAS, http://www.moas.org/Jacob-Lawrence-and-the-Harlem-Renaissance-1-57.html.

Mobilio, Albert. “A Zoom with a View: Tullio Crali’s Death Loop.” Hyperallergic, 27 Aug. 2014, hyperallergic.com/145119/a-zoom-with-a-view-tullio-cralis-death-loop/.

Waters, Tom. “Unpublished Black History; Revisiting Walker Evans.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Mar. 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/your-stories/unpublished-black-history/stories/tom-waters.

Opam, Kwame. “How Futurism Transformed the Art World by Worshipping Technology.” The Verge, The Verge, 11 May 2014, http://www.theverge.com/2014/5/11/5706898/how-futurism-transformed-the-art-world-by-worshipping-technology.

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Artists & Artwork Entertainment News Non-Fiction

Romantic Perspectives and Preferences

There is something to be said about the swiftness in which trends affect the culture of everything—political unrest, as we saw in the last art analyzation brought artists together in a common theme. The stylized commentary made upon the state of the world around us is not unique to art, it is especially not unique to art from the ages preceding us, but it is perhaps a little bit easier to find the common themes when it is something that we are not currently living through ourselves. Not to mention that modern art, while still subject to trends, such as digital art over traditional mediums, but the themes and trends are possibly more difficult to identify.

Impressionism

Impressionism began in the late 1800s and this art movement centered primarily around Parisian painters of the time; the rebellion against the classical subject matter resulted in an embrace of modernity, as well as a mutual desire to express, on canvas, the world that they saw around them.

Prisoners Exercising (1890)

Vincent Willem van Gogh

Influences upon Van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter, born in Zundert, Netherlands on March 30, 1853; all of his work is notable for its beauty, emotion, and color—and yet, he remained poor and virtually unknown throughout his entire life while struggling with mental illness in a time when mental illness was considered a taboo.

Prisoners Exercising (1890), oil on canvas, was one of the later works of Van Gogh, painted in February almost a year after he had voluntarily entered Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence along with his caregiver. While his stay at the hospital wasn’t so awful, given that he had access to two cells, one of which he used as his studio, and that he was even allowed to paint during his stay as it was. The hospital’s garden became the main subject of his drawings and paintings at the time, with a record of several of his studies on the hospital’s interiors we have a collection of them which are lovingly referred to as the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy period.

Van Gogh’s life is something that people often look at with deep sorrow, his life was very rarely enjoyable for him, after all—but Van Gogh was hardly a stranger to severe depression and he knew his mind served to do him an injustice. He makes this clear through both the ecstatic nature of the bright colors, but also the cold, callous, and lonely nature that penetrated others—including the work that I have shared with you above. Within the span of his time at Saint-Paul, he came upon an engraving by Gustave Doré, at which time, Van Gogh was inspired to paint it in his own style.

It is to say that this painting clearly mirrored Van Gogh’s state of mind as he died only a few short months later after leaving the asylum.

The Element of Color

Form

Van Gogh, as an impressionist constructed form completely out of color, by etching depth into the canvas, by building upon tones to allude to shadows or highlights. In Prisoners Exercising we can see how the architecture benefits from this technique, with the colors of the palette fade as the scene, as the courtyard stretches farther back.

Where Van Gogh accomplished form with color, Doré accomplished form with the element of the line—it is interesting to examine the creative differences between artists when they do variations on the same image.

Mood—Sadness

Color, in Prisoners Exercising plays an incredibly important role in regards to mood, then again that is a common theme in all of Van Gogh’s work. As a result, just by analyzing the color palette of a painting by this artist, you can tell what kind of mood he himself was in when he painted it, or the mood of the scene that was set in front of him.

For this particular painting, the blues and browns, and greens give us the sensation of complete and utter sorrow, as the prisoners follow in rounds upon the courtyard as the only means to get any exercise at all.

Tone/Light

As we can observe from the muddy tones that Van Gogh utilized in this painting, we can see that for him there was no “silver lining” to the clouds that engulfed him, there is no luminescence here to suggest anything bright or happy is on the horizon.

The grouping of darker colors on the ground creates the illusion of secondary shadow, as the main light source is represented by the lighter blues and tans to show the sun bouncing off of the roof surrounding the courtyard, then to darker blues as it bounces upon the prisoners and then finally finishes upon the ground in the darkest tones.

The Element of Line

Energy/Emotion

This painting, like much of Van Gogh’s work, is expressive with the element of lines—in fact, Van Gogh’s work is almost entirely made of linework—this is not to create shapes so much as express the energy of a scene that he’s created.

Thick, straight, and short lines create the stone masonry of the courtyard’s ground angled in a fashion to create distance and length.

Texture/Direction

The style that Van Gogh used in all of his works was heavy and thick oil being built up upon the canvas. He achieved his unique look by painting almost exclusively in lines, which created not only a physical texture but in some cases a texture for the surface in the painting. As an example, the masonry upon the ground has the illusion of being ridged with lines turned in different directions to allude to patterned stonework.

Thoughts on Prisoners Exercising

I must admit that Vincent van Gogh is my absolute favorite painter, but surprisingly even to myself, Impressionism isn’t exactly my favorite style of art. I can certainly appreciate work like Monet’s and of course, I love all of Van Gogh’s work, but Impressionism, in general, is not a style that I feel I can identify with on a personal level. I would, however, proudly display any of Van Gogh’s pieces in my home—his work is beyond unique and although there will be mimicry of his style, no one will ever be able to capture the same type of mood and emotion within the confines of a Van Gogh canvas.

I think that to pay too close attention to how his life turned out, is to acknowledge too closely the menace of poor mental health. I myself have struggled with depression since I was a precocious eight-year-old, so I feel as if I can understand Van Gogh on such a level as to feel his own personal pain and incredibly loneliness throughout his life.

And with that I leave you with a quote from this tortured soul…

What am I in the eyes of most people—a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person—somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then—even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony, and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

Vincent Willem van Gogh in a letter to Theo van Gogh July 21, 1882

Evening Song (1893)

Sir George Clausen

British Impressionism…

The movement may have begun in France, Impressionism took root among a small group of creatives across the Channel—these creatives, however, never bonded together as one group, instead, they simply considered themselves as being artists who rebelled against the academic teaching of London’s Royal Academy. According to British Impressionism specialist Lindberg, these artists filled the gap between Victorian and Modernist styles within Britain—they were considered a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy Victorian-era drawing-room.

Clausen was born in London and was the son of a decorative artist—he worked under several successful artists and surely pulled much of his inspiration as an artist from his years observing the work of others. During the summer of 1893, Sir George Clausen painted Evening Song, just a year after moving from London to Essex countryside—oil on canvas, once it was exhibited in the Royal Academy many remarked upon the pastel palette and soft light that resembled the works of Monet and Renoir—the vibrant emotion that presents itself within Clausen’s work is the product of the elements of color.

As the girl lays upon the grass, we see evidence that she has rolled around, flattening the blades of grass and creating the illusion of having been there for a while—there is just such a simple message being conveyed with this painting

The Element of Color

Form

The construction of the forms within Clausen’s Evening Song come together through flecks of color that flow seamlessly, so much so that they appear as unfaltering brush strokes.

The dark greens abut against the lighter yellowish greens which form the shadows within the grass. The peaches evolve into the vibrant and joyful pinks of the girl’s cheeks.

Mood

The main color of this piece is a soft pastel yellow, present in the haystacks in the distance, as well as the field in which the girl is laying. Yellow is representative of joy and friendship, which is something that comes across quite clearly within this artwork.

Greens appear abundantly within Evening Song, supporting the theme of nature, growth, safety, health, and tranquility.

Tone

The representation of innocence and purity comes through with the white and pink colors of the girl’s dress. As she holds a white and red-orange flower, which furthers the narrative of her youthful innocence and energetic demeanor.

She thrusts her arm into the air to display these flowers, as if in celebration and joyful expression for a day well spent.

Thoughts on Evening Song

Just like Van Gogh’s work, Clausen’s Evening Song is a clear expression of human emotion—where Van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising displays the very lowest lows of depression and self-pity, Clausen’s piece displays a bright and joyful love for life through a child’s eyes. Impressionism has never been my utmost favorite style of art, however, so this isn’t exactly something I would seek to display in my home. I do think it’s a lovely expression of human emotion and it washed over me as a viewer, with a relaxing nostalgia of my own childhood.


Pre-Raphaelites

While the Impressionist style certainly didn’t avoid the female form, there wasn’t quite as much regard for it as there was in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which was dedicated to representing it in such a way as to glorify it as if all subjects were goddesses in their own right. In fact, there was a specific look to the women depicted as a result; a typically tall, slender, and brunette lady with pale skin and rosy cheeks—with an ethereal glow to her skin and surrounded by a fairly natural element, in combination with some type of intricate details on fabrics or within the architecture. Despite sometimes being depicted as nude, these women were portrayed with an essence of innocence, purity, and elegance.

Lady Godiva (1897)

John Collier

The Truth Behind the Legend of Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva is quite a large legend within the history of Coventry, England and has been since the early eleventh century—this story, now nearly a millennium since its origin, was first recorded in Latin by two monks of St. Albans Abbey. It’s believed that these monks heard this story while travelling to the capital, so not only did it travel wide throughout the land, it has also been a tale that has stood the test of time.

This historical event arose from what might have otherwise been a normal day, when Lady Godiva is reported to have ridden a horse, while completely naked, through the streets of Coventry on Market Day. Such a strange occurrence, especially for the time, but what really made it such a widely talked about event was truly why she did it at all. She was the wife of Lord Leofric, who ruled over the region and established an incredibly oppressive tax from the citizens of Coventry. Godiva pleaded for her husband to lift these taxes from the shoulders of their citizens, to which Leofric apparently responded, “You will have to ride naked through Coventry before I change my ways.”

Well that was truly not enough for Godiva to relent on her stance of helping the impoverished people o Coventry, so before Market Day, she requested that everyone stay inside of their homes in an effort to preserve her modesty—according to legend, her hair was long enough to cover nearly her entire body and she thusly began riding through Coventry upon her horse. One man of course, decided to disobey her instructions—a man historically known as Peeping Tom (fun fact, that’s the origin of using the term “Peeping Tom,” to indicate a voyeur)—who couldn’t help but spy upon Godiva as she made her way through the town. Legend has it, that was instantly blinded when he laid his eyes upon the nude Godiva.

Now, while that last part isn’t necessarily true, Lady Godiva was an actual figure within history, she’s said to have died somewhere between 1066 and 1086; although there is some doubt that the entire legend is true, considering the first written record of it came about one hundred years after her death and was recorded by a monk who was known to stretch the truth within his writings. The character of Peeping Tom was then added during the sixteenth century, and later a depiction of Lady Godiva riding her horse, as well as Peeping Tom were added to the town’s clock tower as a symbol of Coventry’s history.

Collier and other depictions of Godiva

Lady Godiva (1897) is possibly Collier’s most famous painting with the strange and bright quality of the subject matter—but he is somehow able to depict Godiva as a determined, innocent, but not humiliated form riding through the town with a purpose.

Collier certainly wasn’t the first, nor was he the last to depict Lady Godiva within the artwork—in fact, the first known piece that depicts Lady Godiva was painted in 1586 by Flemish painter Adam van Noort. Today, Godiva is even represented by the Godiva Chocolatier, which was originally founded in Brussels—an interesting turn from a commentary on social reform to a commentary on the culture of sugar, sweets, and chocolate.

Godiva

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I waited for the train at Coventry;
I hung with grooms and porters on the bridge,
To watch the three tall spires; and there I shaped
The city’s ancient legend into this:

Not only we, the latest seed of Time,
New men, that in the flying of a wheel
Cry down the past, not only we, that prate
Of rights and wrongs, have loved the people well,
And loathed to see them overtax’d; but she
Did more, and underwent, and overcame,
The woman of a thousand summers back,
Godiva, wife to that grim Earl, who ruled
In Coventry: for when he laid a tax
Upon his town, and all the mothers brought
Their children, clamoring, “If we pay, we starve!”
She sought her lord, and found him, where he strode
About the hall, among his dogs, alone,
His beard a foot before him and his hair
A yard behind. She told him of their tears,
And pray’d him, “If they pay this tax, they starve.”
Whereat he stared, replying, half-amazed,
“You would not let your little finger ache
For such as these?” — “But I would die,” said she.
He laugh’d, and swore by Peter and by Paul;
Then fillip’d at the diamond in her ear;
“Oh ay, ay, ay, you talk!” — “Alas!” she said,
“But prove me what I would not do.”
And from a heart as rough as Esau’s hand,
He answer’d, “Ride you naked thro’ the town,
And I repeal it;” and nodding, as in scorn,
He parted, with great strides among his dogs.

So left alone, the passions of her mind,
As winds from all the compass shift and blow,
Made war upon each other for an hour,
Till pity won. She sent a herald forth,
And bade him cry, with sound of trumpet, all
The hard condition; but that she would loose
The people: therefore, as they loved her well,
From then till noon no foot should pace the street,
No eye look down, she passing; but that all
Should keep within, door shut, and window barr’d.

Read More…

Then fled she to her inmost bower, and there
Unclasp’d the wedded eagles of her belt,
The grim Earl’s gift; but ever at a breath
She linger’d, looking like a summer moon
Half-dipt in cloud: anon she shook her head,
And shower’d the rippled ringlets to her knee;
Unclad herself in haste; adown the stair
Stole on; and, like a creeping sunbeam, slid
From pillar unto pillar, until she reach’d
The Gateway, there she found her palfrey trapt
In purple blazon’d with armorial gold.

Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity:
The deep air listen’d round her as she rode,
And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.
The little wide-mouth’d heads upon the spout
Had cunning eyes to see: the barking cur
Made her cheek flame; her palfrey’s foot-fall shot
Light horrors thro’ her pulses; the blind walls
Were full of chinks and holes; and overhead
Fantastic gables, crowding, stared: but she
Not less thro’ all bore up, till, last, she saw
The white-flower’d elder-thicket from the field,
Gleam thro’ the Gothic archway in the wall.

Then she rode back, clothed on with chastity;
And one low churl, compact of thankless earth,
The fatal byword of all years to come,
Boring a little auger-hole in fear,
Peep’d — but his eyes, before they had their will,
Were shrivel’d into darkness in his head,
And dropt before him. So the Powers, who wait
On noble deeds, cancell’d a sense misused;
And she, that knew not, pass’d: and all at once,
With twelve great shocks of sound, the shameless noon
Was clash’d and hammer’d from a hundred towers,
One after one: but even then she gain’d
Her bower; whence reissuing, robed and crown’d,
To meet her lord, she took the tax away
And built herself an everlasting name.

The Element of Color

Form/Distance/Depth

The darker and lighter colors present to give the painting depth and distance—as is evident with the lighter tones and colors of the buildings in the background on the right side of the painting. We see that the farther back the buildings are, the lighter they appear and yet, there is still incredible detail portrayed upon the architecture.

Mood

This painting has a complex mood at play, with the light tans that suggest an earthiness and humility in stark contrast to the bright reds of the horse’s blanket, saddle, and bridle. Historically, despite the more modern connotations of red symbolizing passion, red has actually been known to be associated with sacrifice, danger, and courage which is most certainly a narrative of this painting.

Tone

With the innocence and purity of a white horse, we can tell that Lady Godiva is not being lewd or lascivious. The courage presented by the heavy use of red, as well as her personal sacrifice for the townspeople of Coventry are conveyed through color alone, but Collier didn’t do a terrible job at showing that through her body language as well.

Thoughts on Lady Godiva

In consideration of the style from which it evolved, as well as the time and content matter, I thoroughly appreciate this painting—especially knowing that it is depicting a female in history that stood up to an oppressive patriarchy that she herself benefitted from. Collier decided to use this beautiful and empowering story as inspiration in his painting—not to mention the fact that he along with John William Waterhouse pulled still more inspiration from the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson (see next painting analysis). I would simply love to have a work such as this on display within my home, as a constant reminder that women across history have stood up against oppressive governments and male figures within their lives and times—so too, can I.


The Soul of the Rose (1908)

John William Waterhouse R.A.*

* R.A. denotes Waterhouse as a Royal Academician

Waterhouse from the Beginning…

John William Waterhouse although British by birth, was born in Rome, Italy—he was the son of two artists, but truthfully Waterhouse had been a shy man, he left no journals, so little is known about him beyond the fact that he died at age 68 after battling cancer, in 1917. As is evident in the above painting, Waterhouse painted in the style of Pre-Raphaelite art with a nuance of Impressionist inflection through technique; his paintings have become icons of femininity across the globe and he is considered one of the most popular Victorian artists today. Like his predecessors, Waterhouse paid a special emphasis to fantastic scenes, that focus upon a beautiful and feminine image of a woman surrounded in large part, by nature.

The Soul of the Rose completed by Waterhouse in 1908 is an oil on canvas and is sometimes known as My Sweet Rose—this particular painting is said to have taken inspiration from the author Alfred Lord Tennyson. Great detail is paid to the face of the lady in the painting, her features re delicate, glowing, and overwhelmingly beautiful—and if you’ll notice the subject also has a long neck, reminiscent of Madonna with the Long Neck (1534–1535) by Parmigianino. The reason this is important, in my opinion, is that this nod to Mannerism adds that unnatural and otherworldly feeling to the painting in question, as it has the distinct ability to transport the audience to the romantic world of Arthurian myth and legend.

The sensual act of smelling a rose is something that any viewer could easily draw up within their own mind and it brings to mind a certain way of romanticizing how we might spend our time if we lived in a world like that. The act of taking time to smell the roses is something that we often believe is an unreachable luxury with how busy our lives quite often become.

“The Soul of the Rose,” is a phrase that was pulled from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem entitled Maud that was written in 1855 (you can read the poem that inspired this painting on the right here). This shows that not only did Waterhouse pull inspiration from the ancient cultures, but also painted with a commentary on art and literature that was modern to his era.

“And the soul of the rose went into my blood”

The depiction of females within the work of Waterhouse and other Pre-Raphaelite art during this era can be considered somewhat controversial though, due to the way the women are being portrayed—as an example, in The Soul of the Rose it is famously critiqued with an interpretation that the woman smelling the rose is smelling it with remembrance and adoration of a former lover, which makes her come across as a sensitive creature who looks up to her male counterpart.

Not to discount the ideals of feminism, but the movement wouldn’t be supportive of some of the paintings that came out of Pre-Raphaelite art; focusing on the concept of a woman who is incapable of living her life without wrapping herself up within the life of a man and complexity of relationships, as most of the paintings represent. It needs to be said, however, that Waterhouse as a painter afforded women greater independence and power within his paintings than many of his peers during the nineteenth century.

from Maud (Part I)

by Alfred Lord Tennyson
A Monodrama

Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
      I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
      And the musk of the rose is blown.

   For a breeze of morning moves,
      And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
      In a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
      To faint in his light, and to die.

   All night have the roses heard
      The flute, violin, bassoon;
All night has the casement jessamine stirr’d
      To the dancers dancing in tune;
Till a silence fell with the waking bird,
      And a hush with the setting moon.

   I said to the lily, “There is but one
      With whom she has heart to be gay.
When will the dancers leave her alone?
      She is weary of dance and play.”
Now half to the setting moon are gone,
      And half to the rising day;
Low on the sand and loud on the stone
      The last wheel echoes away.

   I said to the rose, “The brief night goes
      In babble and revel and wine.
O young lord-lover, what sighs are those,
      For one that will never be thine?
But mine, but mine,” so I sware to the rose,
      “For ever and ever, mine.”

Read more…

   And the soul of the rose went into my blood,
      As the music clash’d in the hall;
And long by the garden lake I stood,
      For I heard your rivulet fall
From the lake to the meadow and on to the wood,
      Our wood, that is dearer than all;  

   The slender acacia would not shake
      One long milk-bloom on the tree;
The white lake-blossom fell into the lake
      As the pimpernel dozed on the lea;
But the rose was awake all night for your sake,
      Knowing your promise to me;
The lilies and roses were all awake,
      They sigh’d for the dawn and thee.

   Queen rose of the rosebud garden of girls,
      Come hither, the dances are done,
In gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls,
      Queen lily and rose in one;
Shine out, little head, sunning over with curls,
      To the flowers, and be their sun.

   There has fallen a splendid tear
      From the passion-flower at the gate.
She is coming, my dove, my dear;
      She is coming, my life, my fate;
The red rose cries, “She is near, she is near;”
      And the white rose weeps, “She is late;”
The larkspur listens, “I hear, I hear;”
      And the lily whispers, “I wait.”

   She is coming, my own, my sweet;
      Were it ever so airy a tread,
My heart would hear her and beat,
      Were it earth in an earthy bed;
My dust would hear her and beat,
      Had I lain for a century dead,
Would start and tremble under her feet,
      And blossom in purple and red.

The Element of Color

Form

The Soul of the Rose has form expressed through color, we see this through the shadows and the highlights, especially with the woman’s clothing where there is even a shimmer on the details of her sleeve.

Texture

Color also lends to the development of the texture of this piece, this is evident by the coloration and texture in the fabric of the subject’s clothing.

Mood

The coloration of this piece lends it a somewhat lackadaisical mood, while it is colorful, it is not overly bright and enthusiastic.

The pale peaches that make up her skin and the mellow copper of her hair give her an otherworldly appearance. She is surrounded by the neutral and earthy colors of the architecture which give it a natural and serene feeling.

Tone

The greens and pinks of the rosebushes give The Soul of the Rose the tone of cheerful, innocence, and enthusiasm.

The pink roses symbolize a joyful grace which is certainly portrayed with the model in this painting.

The greens and blues subtly even out the enthusiasm with the calm, soothing emotion instilled by flowing water, of which the robe is reminiscent.

Thoughts on The Soul of the Rose

Waterhouse, in my opinion, created quite a wonderful world within his paintings. I feel much admiration for his style and it is something that I myself wish to achieve within my own work. The sort of relaxed and illuminating feeling that I get from looking at his and similar Pre-Raphaelite art is what makes me admire this form of art so thoroughly. I definitely appreciate this style more than I do Impressionism, which I believe, is why I left Pre-Raphaelite art to finish this article off with. In regards to this particular painting, it is also a painting that I could see myself owning and displaying within my home, even though the subject matter is a bit milder than what I feel I would generally be drawn toward.


Works Cited

“John William Waterhouse – 180 Artworks.” 180 Artworks – Art Renewal Center, http://www.artrenewal.org/artists/john-william-waterhouse/79.

“Lady Godiva by John Collier: History, Analysis & Facts.” Arthive, arthive.com/artists/63873~John_Collier/works/336530~Lady_Godiva.

Simcox, Georgia. “The Truth Behind The Legend of Lady Godiva.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 21 Mar. 2018, theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/england/articles/the-truth-behind-the-legend-of-lady-godiva/.

Sir George Clausen (1852–1944), http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/clausen/index.html.

“The Soul of the Rose.” The Soul of the Rose by John William Waterhouse, http://www.john-william-waterhouse.com/soul-of-the-rose/.

“Vincent Van Gogh.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 4 Mar. 2020, http://www.biography.com/artist/vincent-van-gogh.

“Van Gogh Gallery – His Life and Works.” Vincent Van Gogh Gallery – His Life, Biography and Catalog of Art Works, http://www.vangoghgallery.com/.

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Artists & Artwork Entertainment News Non-Fiction

Revolution—Where Art and Political Unrest Intersect

Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg,
eine de France et ses enfants (1787)

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun was born in Paris in 1755; before her father died when she was only twelve years of age, Le Brun received artistic training from him benefiting from his skills as a portraitist. He encouraged her to continue studying art, but much like her female predecessors in the arts, she had no access to a formal education. Due to her natural talent, Le Brun was considered somewhat of a prodigy and already had a modest amount of clients by the age of fifteen. By the time she was nineteen years old, she had gained so much recognition as an artist, that her painting materials were seized as punishment for operating as a professional artist without guild or academy membership.

Portrait of Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France in a costume inspired by Polish attire and her Children (1787) by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France in a costume
inspired by Polish attire and her Children (1787)
by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

In response to this patriarchal injustice, Le Brun joined the Académie de St Luc, an academy that admitted very few women at the time—by the age of twenty she was already established at court and her career took off, throwing her into the spotlight when Queen Marie Antoinette became her official patron. Over the course of her career with Antoinette, she had commissioned approximately thirty portraits of the extravagant Queen. Le Brun had applied for admittance into the Académie Royale in 1783, but was rejected on the basis of her husband being the art dealer, Jean Baptiste Le Brun, but she was later admitted through the Queen persuading the King to put in a good word for her favorite painter.

When Le Brun painted this particular portrait of Antoinette with her three surviving children in 1787, it was due to the Queen’s desire to show her more tender and motherly characteristics. Antoinette summoned her favorite painter to Versaille to commission this publicity portrait. It was an effort to counter her image of frivolity and extravagance—too little, too late and she completely missed the mark just two years before the explosive start of the French Revolution in 1789. Le Brun knew that her marriage was unsuccessful, and in 1789, upon fearing for her life due to her status as the Queen’s personal artist, she ended up leaving her husband and her country. She fled, in exile, to Italy with her young daughter Julie where she would remain for several years.

It was extravagant luxuries such as the exorbitant amount of portraits that Antoinette commissioned, her lavish lifestyle of clothing, jewelry, expensive furniture, and excessive parties that ended up driving her country into such a state of poverty and unrest. In no uncertain terms, Antoinette’s love of pretty things was the straw that broke the back of the impoverished citizens of France and led to an all-out revolution.

Visual Element of Tone as Contrast of Light and Dark

The dramatic dark and light contrasting tones in this piece create a focal point for the painting; they effectively draw the eye to the Queen and her children. It is the softness of the shadows, versus a stark contrast that make the subject matter less harsh and give Antoinette a more motherly air. It stands to reason that if Antoinette’s reputation had not already been sullied as being an unapologetic flirt and spendthrift, that this painting may have helped to give her the sweet and caring image that she needed to quell the anger of her people.

Visual Element of Color as Tone

While the architectural elements of this painting work with less colorful tones, Antoinette and her children are bathed in luscious reds and oranges, and the applicable darker tones of these colors to represent the depth in the folds of the dresses and other fabrics.

Visual Element of Color as Symbol

As mentioned before, we see reds and oranges as the focal point in this painting, for Antoinette the deep crimson reds of her dress bring to mind her reputation as a passionate woman who was believed to float from affair to affair. Truly I think this was supposed to be more mindful in the sense of not boasting the royal purple color and instead of using red to promote the loving and caring nature of her as a monarch. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned propaganda did not save the Queen from eventually meeting the guillotine.

Personal Thoughts

I think, in the grand scheme of things, that this is actually a very lovely portrait, Le Brun was a very talented artist, and the softness of her subjects that she captured truly would have softened any harsh image formed by public opinion—at least it would in an era where being informed on political issues was not as widespread as it is today. As it is, I have never been a fan of Marie Antoinette, but that may be personal bias as I have never appreciated the concept of a monarchy. It is for this reason that I would not own a copy of this painting, but having seen other paintings by Le Brun, I know there are at least a few of her works that I would otherwise own. This particular painting is something that I would expect to see in a place such as the Palace of Versaille, Antoinette’s home of luxury and extravagance.

La Prise de la Bastille (1789)

Jean-Pierre Houël
The Storming of the Bastille (1789) by Jean-Pierre Houël

French artist Jean-Pierre Houël created La Prise de la Bastille (The Storming of the Bastille) in watercolor in 1789. It is assumed that Houël painted this while in Paris, but that cannot be specifically verified. He was known to have witnessed the reign of Louis XV, the French Revolution, as well as the period of Napoleon’s First Empire. This particular watercolor painting depicts the fall of the Bastille, a state prison on the east side of Paris, on the morning of July 14, 1789, after being attacked by a tumultuous and violent mob. The Bastille had become a symbol of the monarchy’s dictatorial rule and as a result, this event became a defining moment in the French Revolution.

The Storming of the Bastille (1789) by Jean-Pierre Houël
Barrels of gunpowder being seized from the Bastille

Despite the prison only having held seven prisoners at the time of the attack, the fall of this incredibly symbolic building aided the embodiment of the attacks that would later take place on the state of France itself. During the summer of the fall of the Bastille, commoners and partisans alike formed a National Assembly in an effort to debate the institution of a new constitution that would favor more appropriate rights for the French people. Growing paranoia caused the gangs of Parisians to lay siege to the Bastille in an effort to liberate the weaponry they believed to be held within, so that they may be able to stand a chance of possible attacks by the loyalist army. Their efforts forced the prison open, several thousand pounds of gunpowder were seized, several partisans were killed, and later the prison was eventually torn down—this day was a huge success for the revolutionaries and it caused the movement to spread quickly throughout the rest of the country.

The Storming of the Bastille (1789) by Jean-Pierre Houël
The arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay

It is important to note within the painting itself, we can see the details of what is going on within the scene—we can clearly see, in the center of the painting, the arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay, the French governor of the Bastille itself. After a long ensuing battle, those within the Bastille had no source of drinkable water and their food rations were incredibly limited; de Launay attempted to negotiate his surrender, under the conditions that no one else within the Bastille would be harmed. These conditions, of course, were rejected, but he surrendered eventually anyway whereupon his weapons were seized from him, and he was to be taken to the Hôtel de Ville. Unfortunately, en route to the Hôtel de Ville, he was assaulted by a furious mob, who beat, stabbed, and shot him. As if that hadn’t been enough, his head was then taken, speared on a pike, carried through the streets four hours, then eventually thrown into the Seine river the next day.

Visual Element of the Line

Despite this painting having been created with watercolor, we see an exceptional amount of line art within it, in order to convey edges, distance, height—in particular, we can see the Bastille itself, with horizontal and vertical lines specifically denoting architectural distance and height, but because it is also in a state of being torn down, we also see jagged lines, which denotes turmoil and anxiety. These emotions are clearly conveyed within this battle scene and for good reason! It is a depiction of historical violence and mob reaction to greater political strife.

It is important to note that many of these lines are freehand in nature, while others are mechanical, some are continuous others are broken, and there is the appearance of both thick and thin lines as well. The spectrum of emotion derived simply from the linework alone covers all of the emotions one might expect just being in the scene that Houël presents to us here. Now knowing the history behind this particular piece makes it easier to understand the emotions conveyed throughout.

Visual Element of Tone as Form, Depth and Distance

When studied, even in a cursory manner, we can see that Houël’s use of tone provides the Bastille it’s architectural form, with the light source coming from the upper-middle left side of the painting, the light casts down to create shade on the right side of the Bastille as well as a gradient effect on the turret to create a more cylindrical shape. We also can see depth, as we look down the street as it disappears behind rubble and smoke past the Bastille, the tone introduces depth of field and distance to illustrate just how large this scene really is.

Visual Element of Color as Mood and Symbol

It seems as though I have a penchant for selecting works of art that hold to a more neutral palette, but this palette is incredibly appropriate for this scene. We see an array of browns, from light to dark, as a representation of hardship within the lives of those who are fighting for their rights. Any reds or blues are exceedingly muted, so as to not overwhelm the symbolic message of the neutral tones.

We also see greys and near black colors, which are symbolic of death, destruction, and even fear. Within a war setting, plumes of smoke can only signal destruction and inevitable themes of death or loss of life.

Personal Thoughts

If I were to seek out paintings like this, it would be at an art museum where historical pieces were more apt to be on display. I know when I visited the Louvre, I saw the painting Le Premier Consul franchissant les Alpes au col du Grand Saint-Bernard (Napoleon Crossing the Alps) by Jacques-Louis David and that is the kind of setting in which I would expect to see this painting by Houël. This is definitely not a piece that I would personally own, or even want to view on a regular basis, but that is not to say it isn’t incredibly well done, or historically necessary; I am not a fan of paintings of war or discord, because it reminds me too often of how human beings can never seem to get along. I consider this pretty strange since I am a horror writer and I regularly write about death.

La Mort de Marat (1793)

Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David created this macabre oil on canvas painting in the neoclassical style, as a tribute to his friend Jean-Paul Marat a controversial journalist who met his grisly end at the hands of a woman.

After the siege of the Bastille, there was a monumental change in French media and press coverage—in fact, it was when the free press was initially established. This meant that newspapers and journalists alike were finally able to freely express facts and personal opinions without having to get approval from the King. By the time 1790 rolled around, there was a dramatic uptick in the number of papers that France had circulating and some of them even had a partisan twist! Papers such as L’ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People) took this novel partisan stance and dangerously took an adversarial stance against the people still in power. Jean-Paul Marat right), having been one of the main writers for L’ami du Peuple, was eventually assassinated as a result of his highly opinionated pieces.

I attack the cheats without fear, I unmask the hypocrites, and I denounce the traitors.

Jean-Paul Marat

Marat’s words held so much power that they eventually led to his death, as well as several other citizens of France. Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d’Armont, the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat and royalist sympathizer believed Marat to be an unholy enemy of the state of France and subsequently began to plot his assassination. She initially planned to carry out his murder at the Bastille Day parade on July 14, but upon the cancelation of the festivities, she was forced to revise her plan. On July 13, she came to Marat with a petition to sign, in which she promised to betray the Caen Girondists; Marat, who was working in his bath due to a persistent skin disease, went to sign the petition, only to be stabbed by Corday after she pulled a knife from her bodice. Marat died quickly and Corday sat in wait for the police to arrest her for her crimes, four days later she was taken to the guillotine.

Jacques-Louis David portrays his friend and colleague in this bathtub full of blood, Cordays petition in one hand, and his quill in the other—an image of a martyr for the freedom of speech and a true symbol for the French Revolution.

The Petition that Marat holds in his hand reads:

Du 13. juillet, 1793
Marie Anne Charlotte Corday au Citoyen Marat. Il suffit que je sois bien malheureuse pour avoir droit a votre bienveillance.

July 13, 1793
Marie Anne Charlotte Corday to the citizen Marat. Given that I am unhappy, I have a right to your help.

Visual Element of Tone as Contrast of Light and Dark

There is such a wonderful contrast in this painting that lends to an atmosphere of grief, sorrow, and loss. David highlighted the body of Marat in such a way that he almost looks angelic in his death. The depth of the shadows is not so dark that it creates a harsh contrast, instead it’s just enough to illustrate the mood in which it was painted.

Visual Element of Tone as Form

David was more than kind to his friend, using clean tones to paint him as flawless as he did, he neglected to paint any detail of Marat’s skin condition. In using tone to create form, David created the illusion of musculature in Marat’s lifeless form, a kindness to the victim of assassination.

Personal Thoughts

While it may at first look out of place in a museum of other art from the French Revolution, the history behind its creation and its subsequent use as a piece of propaganda against monarch rule earns it the right to be amongst the paintings of battles, sieges, and other portrayed violence. There is something about this painting that really grabs me by the center of my being—perhaps it is the sympathetic viewpoint that the painting alludes to, Marat the martyr of free speech, the revolutionary who fought with his words. I had a small draw to it before I knew the history behind the painting and now that I have a better understanding of the context of why it was painted, I feel as if it is something I would want to have in my own home. I know it is a morbid image, a murdered man, soaking in his own blood, but at the same time, it is such a powerful image to stand up for what you believe in.

L’Assassinat de Marat (1860)

Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry
Charlotte Corday After the Murder of Marat (1860) by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry
Charlotte Corday After the Murder of Marat (1860) by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry

Despite the French Revolution ending during the previous century, and the Neoclassical movement within art having ended just a decade before this oil on canvas painting was created by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry, this piece ties in quite nicely to this particular showcase of artwork. Baudry was one of several artists that continued to work in the classical style, despite the movement having ended within the trending art community. I have included it here because it furthers the narrative of La Mort de Marat (1793).

Seen in this piece is Charlotte Corday, Marat’s assassin standing just a few feet from Marat after having plunged the knife into his chest. It is, in a sense, almost as if Baudry took David’s work, stepped to the left side of the scene, and revealed what David had hidden from the audience. I think it’s rather interesting in this respect, but as it is not officially within the era I did not include it to analyze it as I did the previous works in this article.

Works Cited

“Charlotte Corday Assassinates French Revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/charlotte-corday-assassinates-marat.

Covington, Richard. “Marie Antoinette.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Nov. 2006, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/marie-antoinette-134629573/.

History.com Editors. “French Revolution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution.

The National Gallery, London. “Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun.” The National Gallery, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/international-womens-day-elisabeth-louise-vigee-le-brun.

“Painting of the Storming of the Bastille, 1789.” The British Library, The British Library, 9 Apr. 2014, http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/painting-of-the-storming-of-the-bastille-1789.

Petersen, Britni. “The Death of Marat: A Symbol of the French Revolution: Comm455/History of Journalism.” Comm455History Of Journalism RSS, 1 Oct. 2009, historyofjournalism.onmason.com/2009/10/01/the-death-of-marat-a-symbol-of-the-french-revolution/.

Richman-Abdou, Kelly. “’The Death of Marat’: A Powerful Painting of One of the French Revolution’s Most Famous Murders.” My Modern Met, 9 Sept. 2019, mymodernmet.com/jacques-louis-david-death-of-marat/.

White, Katie. “’The Death of Marat’ Defined the French Revolution. Here Are 3 Things You Might Not Know About Jacques Louis David’s Masterpiece.” Artnet News, 15 July 2020, news.artnet.com/exhibitions/jacques-louis-david-death-of-marat-3-facts-1894240.

Categories
Entertainment Horror Non-Fiction Writing

Reichskulturkammer, or How Hitler’s Germany Cultivated Propaganda Out of Folklore

As a travesty of history, we have all of the events that surrounded the holocaust—because the truth of the matter is that antisemitism, reshaping of an entire body of cultural literature, and the ensuing power struggle came well before the beginning of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people. Hitler’s vision was both carefully planned out, and easily executed upon the establishment of the Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment in March of 1933, by the newly appointed Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.

Examples of Nazi Propaganda in Hitler’s Germany

It was, as Kamenetsky pointed out, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party’s recognition of German Folklore as an “excellent means to educate young and old in the spirit of the new Weltanschauung.” This new Weltanschauung, or worldview and philosophical view of life, according to the Nazi Party left no room for new culture or ideals that might challenge the progression of a “pure” master race. This censorship meant that “every author, artist, composer, publisher, bookseller, librarian, researcher, and teacher, as well as the general public,” was affected by the censorship policy that the party instilled as the new values that they would uphold. (Kamenetsky 1977:168)

This brought “seemingly spontaneous book-burning ceremonies,” to the public in the early 1930s, as well as “radical cleansing,” throughout all of the country’s libraries of “undesirable and so-called ‘decadent’ literature.” (Kamenetsky 1977:168) During this time of extreme propaganda, there were new editions of Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmärchen that upon release re-emphasized the importance of a return to the ancient cultures and life of the peasant. It is said that this also endorsed the idea of the peasant as being the “pillar of the state,” and Hitler’s aversion to decadent city lifestyles.

This calls to mind Grimm’s tale of Hansel and Gretel—a tale where a family is stricken with famine, so much so that the “evil” stepmother is able to coerce the father into leaving their two children in the woods on their own to starve before being able to find their way back home. The tenacity of these peasant youths is an image that would have been welcome in Hitler’s Germany, one where they overcome the evil witch, which could have been easily replaced with the image of an “evil Jew,” who was there to consume them, albeit not literally.

Hitler is even quoted in 1933 saying, “We know from history that our Volk can exist without cities, yet it is impossible to conceive that it could exist without the peasant!” (Kamenetsky 1977:169) Upon reflection of this kind of statement as well as the transformation of, “the innocent folktale … into an ideological weapon,” it is clear that while Hitler’s assertion of the importance of the peasant, he truly intended to drive most of the German people into poverty while the Nazi Party reaped the benefits. Furthermore, he aimed to essentially brainwash his people beginning with the youngest generation:

“A closer examination of the National Socialist guidelines for educators, librarians, and youth leaders, throws light upon the folktale’s role and function in the Party’ indoctrination program for children and young people.” (Kamenetsky 1977:170)

This was done under the guise of bringing the collective mind of the country to the nostalgic version of their nation’s past, an appeal to the best of times—at least according to Hitler’s agenda. Kamenetsky further states that the purity of the German Folklore was of utmost importance to the Aryan agenda and that they made tremendous efforts to separate traditional German Folklore from being muddled, or decayed by international influence and that it, “needed a thorough cleansing process to restore it to its original form and meaning.” (Kamenetsky 1977:172)

Professor Strobel, a notable figure in Nazi “education,” made an emphasis on removing any “alien,” elements out and can be quoted as having written the following in 1937:

“The aim of folklore is and remains to give an unfalsified representation of that which is true to the Volk. However, a precondition for such a representation is an understanding of the Weltanschauung which is based upon the principle of the blood and on the right faith in distinguishing that which belongs to our race from that which is alien to it.” (Kamenetsky 1972:226)

He believed it to be the folklorist’s responsibility to remove any of the elements that had somehow snuck their way into Nordic-Germanic myths, customs, and rituals in order to propagate folklore that would have been as “purely as possible related to ‘the ancestors.’” (Kamenetsky 1972:226) In this respect, not only did the Reich manipulate folklore to suit their needs, but they also, in effect manipulated history to reflect their own Aryan agendas and policies.

Truly, they needed to instigate an image of instability for mixed folklore if they didn’t want anything to taint the otherwise noble and superior race they wished to establish. “If we want to walk safely into the future … then will have to walk upon the firm soil of our folklore,” (Kamenetsky 1972:223)

It is true too, however, that the history of Germany was rife with anti-Semitism even before the beginnings of World War II; there are sentiments dating back as early as the mid-1500s from Martin Luther’s essay “Von den Juden und ihren Lügen.” In which he is quoted as having written, “into the fire, into the fire with the synagogues! Into the stables with the Jews! … let one drive all … Jews to hard labor … No indulgence, no sympathy for the Jews!”Anti-semitism being propagated through folklore was hardly the first instance of literary hatred for the Jewish people, but it was possibly the most damaging of all.


Works Cited

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folktale and Ideology in the Third Reich.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 90, no. 356, Apr. 1977, pp. 168–178., DOI:10.2307/539697.

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 85, no. 337, July 1972, pp. 221–235., DOI:10.2307/539497.

Mieder, Wolfgang. “Proverbs in Nazi Germany: The Promulgation of Anti-Semitism and Stereotypes Through Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 95, no. 378, Oct. 1982, pp. 435–464., DOI:10.2307/540750. 

Categories
Contemporary Fiction Writing

Most Intimate Knowledge

A mammoth vision of deep espresso stain, she towered, undisturbed, and pensive as an overflowing well of knowledge. Four deep shelves heavily laden with bodies, thick and thin, a forest of corpses; rigid bones in dust jackets. Mysterious symbolisms that communicate the concepts, beliefs, opinions, and imaginative powers of the human race—her contents suggested the particular character of an insatiable lust for a deeper understanding of thought and a strengthened existential dread. Student manuals, OSHA Regulation handbooks, Clue, Connect4, blank spiral notebooks, sketchbooks, art references, and botanical field guides littered the bottommost shelf in a haphazard way, an indication of random 4 a.m. perusal.

Just above the indiscriminate mix of the unexpected, were literary curiosities pilfered from transfer sites and a smaller, rural post office where empty egg cartons, self-help books, and magazines could regularly be discarded for the next interested party. Here was a shelf where one might find something, after all other—possibly better—options had been exhausted. Wicked might eventually be read, but it was just as likely to be put back into circulation for another person to own and love—communal property on indefinite loan until it is decided that the time is right to part. 

Photography by Brandi Redd
Photography by Brandi Redd

The bottom two shelves weren’t the truly important shelves though, everything upon this minimalistic tribute to learning was carefully slipped, stuffed, and stacked in a certain chaotic organizational scheme so everything fit just-so. Coming-of-age novellas and novels graced the third shelf, which brought the sting of secret longing for the return of a preteen daughter and the love of reading that had long ago been instilled within her. Young adult journeys into super-heroic flights of fancy, teenage high school idealization, introduction into dystopic societies, and injustices worth fighting against; all waited there for her to come home. Abutted against those which may never be opened, there were worn out westerns—covers bent and torn after many reads, spines that had cracked and glue that had long-since flaked and turned to dust. Louis L’amore novels intermingled with the lukewarm spy thrillers and political crime narratives of James Patterson. More random, “I’ll get to this later,” titles that would never truly be consumed.

None of those shelves were the main event, however, it was the top shelf that held that honor for me. In the far back row graphic horror novels of brain-eating revenants and corrupt preachers with a penchant for running into supernatural problems; these were safe from light and undue wear. A different sort of horror could be found in WWII books where swastikas defied political correctness by addressing a period in history that can never be allowed to fade into distant memory. Next to the graphic novels, a row of academic resources that had a healthy collection of dust once the season of their use had come and gone. A healthy musk of the bibliosmia of old and new pages, which would attract even the most indifferent of bibliophiles. Languages that had been picked up and promised for another day also made friends with the fine dusting of time and benign neglect.

At the forefront of all, relics from previous generations sat undisturbed, their pages decaying and crumbling like a forgotten tombstone that disintegrates more and more with a hard rain, editions that would likely last another generation if they continued to go undisturbed. The only value they hold is to the owner, to gingerly open the decrepit covers and gaze over the brittle yellowed-pages of Lord Byron’s tomes of poetry to appreciate the flamboyantly romantic verses of the 1800s. My hand lightly glanced over the tops of large volumes of herbal remedies, slipped in between two, and forcibly pushed one aside to slide another large book in place.

My palms itched and reached out for something known well to me, a book that had drawn me out of a dark place for its darker truths. Lives were held between those pages, ones that had been far worse than my own; lives that had been conveyed in such a way to put my own struggles in perspective with my privilege and opportunities that I had been gifted with. Le Ly Hayslip had, within those pages, made my heart race, my throat close, my palms sweat, my stomach twist, my breath catch, and my tears swell with rage and sorrow. My fingers grasped the spine of the book and I pulled it close to my chest as if cradling a child. I climbed up into my loft bed and settled in and that was When Heaven and Earth Changed Places once again.

Photography by Daniel Schludi
Photography by Daniel Schludi
Categories
Artists & Artwork Entertainment Non-Fiction

Artemisia Gentileschi: Baroque Feminism

A Powerful Figure in a Patriarchal Era of Artwork

Judith and her Maidservant (1625) by Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith and her Maidservant (1625) by Artemisia Gentileschi

Born on July 8, 1593, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is now considered one of the most accomplished seventeenth-century artists. Gentileschi’s career as a painter began at age fifteen, in an age where women had few opportunities to pursue artistic training or professional courtesy as an artist. As the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, Italy she came to possess something that few other women could boast—an international base of clientele.

She initially worked in the style of Caravaggio, but soon her style was more representative of chiaroscuro, as is evidenced in her painting Judith and her Maidservant (1625—left) which is now a part of the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Some of the best-known works of art that Gentileschi produced were centered around women, their form, and their ability to overcome—featuring famous women from myths, allegories, and the Bible.

A Predecessor to the #MeToo Movement

Susanna and the Elders (1610) by Artemisia Gentileschi
Susanna and the Elders (1610) by Artemisia Gentileschi

Often regarded as a curiosity, Artemisia Gentileschi’s achievements have far too often been overshadowed by the narrative of her being violently raped by Agostino Tassi; as well as her participation in the trial against her rapist. Only seventeen years of age when she underwent the rape, humiliation, and slander from Tassi and the courthouse itself, Gentileschi somehow overcame it all.

While under judicial torture—to ensure she was telling the truth, her fingers were bound with cords and then the cords were pulled tight—she never waivered in her testimony against the predatory Tassi; all the while, she asserted, “E vero, e vero, e vero,” It’s true, he raped me. It’s true I was a virgin. It’s true, all I say. The transcript of her trial still evidenced from 1612 that she would not be silenced or forced to recant her statement.

To add insult to injury, however, Tassi had been a friend and collaborator of her father’s and after having been caught lying about having any relations with her (consensual or not), he insinuated that she had asked for it—calling her a heartbreaker and an easy target.

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi

Though it cannot be ignored that Tassi was already a convicted criminal with no end to his debauchery and heinous crimes against the women in his life, Gentileschi’s reputation was already sullied. It wasn’t long before she was married off to Pierantoni Stiattesi, a painter with little talent and even less money.

Although Tassi was finally convicted of the crime after a seven-month trial, his verdict was later annulled by Pope Paul V, who having patronized Tassi and his artwork, could not have his holy name sullied by such scandal. As a result of this, Gentileschi’s work took on a mission of blatant feminist expression and revenge against the patriarchal influence of the time she lived in. Gentileschi spent the next seven years with her husband in debt, nearly constantly pregnant, and angry—she took up a lover with whom she was wholly in love.

Left to care for her father, Orazio, and her three younger brothers as her mother died when Artemisia was only twelve, she was tasked with all of the housekeeping, cooking, mending—while her father spent his time and money with “loose women”. To Orazio’s credit, he did teach his daughter how to paint, which she could be found working on when she was not bogged down with menial “womanly” tasks. It all led to a fairly successful career in a time where it was near to unspeakable for her to be learned in the ways of artwork as it was, but even more so today her work and her story are something I am quite in awe of.

Her art, as well as the most dismal point in her young womanhood, continues to be reexamined by modern scholars, who have now determined her to be one of the most progressive and expressive painters of her generation.

Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638-1639)

by Artemisia Gentileschi
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi

This particularly confident and bold painting was created with oil on canvas, when Artemisia joined her father, Orazio Gentileschi, in London at the court of Charles I of England—it is now on display in the Royal Collection, London. At the time, Orazio had become the court painter and was in the process of decorating a ceiling allegory of Triumph of Peace and the Arts in the Queen’s House, Greenwich. This meant that once again, Artemisia and her father were working together at the behest of Charles I himself. While her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting was not necessarily commissioned by the King, it did become a part of his collection after its completion.

With the influence of royalty, it’s surprising that Gentileschi was not a better-known painter in her day, although it is believed that Gentileschi had more of an influence on the perspective of royalty than the other way around. As a female painter with such rage and reverence for the female form, she definitely turned their heads.

The Visual Element of Color as Symbol

In this painting, we see that Gentileschi has created a quite realistic portrait of a painter in an ongoing state of work—which speaks to the state that an artist is always in, because their work is never done. It is the neutral palette that once again that speaks so boldly in this piece, as if there is something unfinished in this highly polished piece of work and it is said that the brown color of the background is representative of the blank canvas that the painter is always attempting to put something upon. Browns and neutral colors are also the color of earth, wood, and stone—they evoke the symbolism of craftsmanship, which certainly includes the craftsmanship of an artist. It also speaks to the nature of being humble, with little ego, and as a reflection of hard work or manual labor.

The Visual Element of Tone as Form

The tone imparted through the strokes on this canvas was deliberate and thoughtful—we see depth and volume in Gentileschi’s portrait of herself, where she depicts herself as a hard, strong woman, who toils endlessly over her canvas.

The Visual Element of Tone as the Contrast of Light and Dark

The lighting in this piece is evident of tone being used for contrast between the light and dark elements—where her body blocks the light off from the rest of the room and where the fabric pools on her arms to create the depth within the satiny shimmers.

The Visual Element of Tone as Tranquility and Drama

One can’t help but be drawn to the passivity and calm that Gentileschi portrays within this confines of this canvas—perhaps speaking upon her passion for her artwork, but also the reality of hard work.

Final Thoughts…

I would proudly display Gentileschi’s Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting within my home—I feel as if it relates to myself and my own life, as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, but more importantly, as a creative who will go to any means to express the overwhelm of emotions that comes with having a story to tell. Her other works speak to me also, such as Susanna and the Elders (1610) which depicts Susanna being harassed by men and her turning and twisting as if to distance herself from the lewd and predatory men.

Gentileschi and Botticelli: Regard for the Feminine

It occurred to me that these two painters, while a little over a century apart, had some similar aspects of their work. There is something about both of these artists and their work, although they are of different genders and have different styles, both of them display a high regard for the female form. While Botticelli depicts a slender, elongated, and girlish form, Gentileschi depicts a hardy, and capable womanly form. It is clear, however, the admiration that both have in their works of the fairer sex.

Works Cited

“Artemisia Gentileschi: Five-Star Reviews for ‘the Beyoncé of Art History’.” BBC News, BBC, 29 Sept. 2020, http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-54338537.

Classe, Sylvie. “Artemisia Gentileschi 1593-1652.” HEGEL – HEpato-GastroEntérologie Libérale, no. 2, 2020, doi:10.4267/2042/70805.

“Gentileschi Artworks & Famous Paintings.” The Art Story, http://www.theartstory.org/artist/gentileschi-artemisia/artworks/.

“‘I’ll show you what a woman can do’: The life of Artemisia Gentileschi is made for Netflix, says Laura Freeman, but it’s her art that really excites.” Spectator, vol. 342, no. 9998, 11 Apr. 2020, p. 44+. Gale Literature Resource Centerhttps://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A621475218/LitRC?u=fair43885&sid=LitRC&xid=f7001165. Accessed 13 Oct. 2020.

“More Savage than Caravaggio: the Woman Who Took Revenge in Oil.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Oct. 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/05/artemisia-gentileshi-painter-beyond-caravaggio.

Categories
Contemporary Fiction Writing

Bright Blue Eyes

I remember being a sapling or maybe several over the years that I’ve seen—springs, summers, falls, and winters—I’ve seen them all, but I never felt regarded with such majesty as when he found me in the forest and felled me by hand. He milled me from handsome Lodgepole Pine trees and constructed my modest, yet handsome framework during the summers of his own autumnal years, but year after year he grew smaller and slower until eventually, he was too tired to continue on. That was the year he covered me with tarps for good, where I sat neglected and unfinished through each of the seasons, for what seemed to be years.

He would visit me every year, like an old friend and we would reminisce upon our time together on the cold days preceding the long winter. Another blustery winter passed, my wood contracted and slowly expanded once again as the sun came back to shine upon the warm blue tarps that hid me from the weather; but that was the year he would never come back. Even with all of my years alone in the forest, that was the longest and loneliest year of my life. The next winter felt somehow harsher than the one before, my decay was inevitable and I would never again be shared with another.

Another nameless spring drew in with the melting snow when I felt tender young fingers grasp at my sun-bleached tarp. With a strong tug, I was uncovered and saw the sun for the first time in years and through the blinding light, I saw the same bright blue eyes and wry crooked old smile of which I had grown so fond. It wasn’t him, but a lady that had his same rough, yet warm exterior—she even wore one of his red flannel shirts. It was as if I was being seen by him for the first time, the way she admired his handiwork of my naturally stained trusses and unique floor-plan gave me hope.

The next day she choked the air with the exhaust of his old work truck, filled with his tools and a disheveled man who was about her age.—by the end of that fall her hands were rougher and stronger and I finally had a green tin roof as well as a strong weatherproofing on my sides to keep out the rain and snow. She temporarily shuttered my unframed windows and door until we would meet again the next spring to finish what the old man had started. She and the young man worked tirelessly; electricity and a gas line to a large tank were set up before she began to dote on me from the inside.

“His favorite color was green,” I heard her tell me one day, as she drew the paintbrush thoughtfully over the accent wood on my cabinets; the young man had built them for my kitchen. “I wish my father could have seen you like this.” Her tumbled copper hair fell into her eyes and an unwitting smudge of sage green paint appeared when she swept the fallen tendril from her face. It wasn’t long before I felt warmth creep up on me, from within my wood stove. The young man shoveled fresh logs into a raging fire, and she organized books into one of the many bookcases they had given me.

She placed a desk in the corner of my living room near the stove, which had a window that looked out over the mountains in the distance. On bright days she would take her tea there, cozy in a plush office chair that was laden with far too many fleece blankets, and a fluffy husky laying atop her feet. Suddenly the winters didn’t seem like such a burden to me, with her familiar voice and warmth to keep me company on those long, dark, and unbearably icy nights.

I saw her family grow and heard the pitter-patter of tiny bare feet on my hardwood flooring. I felt the paws of two new dogs, chasing each other up and down the stairs; and the slowing steps of the aging canine companion. Two giggling and sticky children turned to teenagers who would leave for college and only visit on the holidays. Winters of heavy storms, frigid frosts, and endless snows passed in great numbers, and her determination to keep me up persisted through all of them. When my paint faded and chipped, she dutifully restored me; when my deck began to creak with wear, she replaced boards and refinished me. I would keep her company during those long nights in front of the fire while she added more books to her overflowing library. I saw my redheaded friend’s hair fade and face crease; then I felt the swell of tears dampen my floorboards the summer when her husband didn’t come home.

She was getting slower, although her tenacity never seemed to be diminished. We would share those brisk dark clear nights under the brilliance of the milky way, as she bundled herself in a thick blanket and sipped a hot toddy. The stillness of rough and gentle woods paralleled her own coarse exterior. I had been with her through all of her adult years; I had seen her best years and her worst years. I had seen summers of laughter, mosquito bites, and buckets of familial tears. Through all of it, what I saw the most was a pair of bright blue eyes and that old crooked wry smile, which made me feel like home.