July 26, 2010
LUCIEN FREUD (et moi) AT THE POMPIDOU
I'm about to make sweeping statements but this is my blog and I'm allowed to sweepstate as much as I like. You are encouraged to refute, agree, elaborate, contradict, and I hope you will do one or more of these things because, frankly, comments are few and far between over here lately and I'd like to boost the participatory factor. So, here goes.
There are two types of creatives: receptives and obsessives.
Receptive-creatives have hyper-sensitive antennae which are continually picking up visual, verbal and subliminal information and sensations from the surroundings. Receptive-creatives are easily distracted because of the abundance of stimuli bombarding them. When an object or subject captures their attention, they will give it total concentration but only until the next stimulus becomes impossible to ignore. The variety and intensity of input vibrating their antennae is such that the degree of success (in worldly terms) which their creativity achieves depends on the amount of time they are able and willing to give to any particular message the universe sends. A state of readiness to absorb, combined with uncertainty about whether the material really merits absorption, is the receptive-creative's normal modus vivendi. I, ahem, am among those who fit into this category.
Obsessive-creatives are driven by a compulsion which demands single-minded focus on a chosen path and the avoidance of anything which might disturb, distract or question this choice. They too are receptive but in a one-track way and they arrange their lives so as to feed their compulsion and insist that anyone who comes close should either support it or stay out. Dedicated, opinionated, blinkered, uncompromising, workaholic, eccentric, egocentric, extraordinary, are some of the adjectives frequently used in describing them. I would prefer to be an o-c rather than an r-c but I have never succeeded in remodelling myself. Lucian Freud is among those who are probably born into this category.
I have not been one of the many admirers of Sigmund's grandson's painting (or of his grandad for that matter - don't let me get distracted!) but I didn't want to miss this exhibition because I hoped to be goaded into pursuing a completely contrary path. So I took my lethargic body to the Pompidou - nowadays ressembling a decaying community centre designed by committee - and escalated, via a bird's eye view of the Rue Beaubourg, to the sixth floor galleries where Freud's Atelier paintings were impressively hung.
I did not expect to be impressed. But I was. Not impressed as in awestruck but as in, this is important stuff - must sit down and take it in slowly.
First of all, his colours. They are greys, browns, ochres, meat-red, black and the occasional dusty yellow-green. They are Old Master-ish, museum-ish colours, destined for posterity and weighty gold frames, defiantly academic, you could even say anti-modernist.
Then there's the light. The grey light of London bed-sitters in lonely winters and sweaty summers. The cold light of dawn, post-coitum triste. The sleepless night light of regret, apathy, desperation. The merciless light of hospitals, morgues and bus stations at 4 am.
Then there's the flesh, his subject. Passive flesh offered up to be penetrated by his dominant, hypnotic gaze. Naked but not erotic bodies splayed in apparent abandon on the bed, sofa or floor, seemingly obeying the master's stage-instructions to "be themselves" but, in truth, being only what he requires them to be. He says that what interests him in people is their animal side and that he likes seeing his subjects "as naturally and physically at ease as his dog." However, far from being at ease in their theatrical set-up, Freud's actors are more like tranquilised laboratory animals, their vitality suppressed, coerced by the painter's will into becoming still-life - even the dog must relinquish all doggy energy if he's to play a part in a Freudian tableau. But in the coruscating self-portraits, perhaps the only time the artist allows his model to confront him as an equal, Freud achieves magnificent, courageous insight.
I understand the necessity of establishing rules of engagement when absorbed in the intensely difficult process of looking at and transcribing a human presence. The artist may be inwardly saying to his subject: go away! I mean stay, but don't talk, don't move, don't interact, just be still so I can observe you without being observed. So it makes sense that Freud prefers his models to be asleep or in a kind of trance induced by long hours of posing, but his determined focus on flesh as meat, to the exclusion of any other aspect of identity (as far as he's concerned, the matiére of his portrait of a person is that person) must be the reason I left Lucien Freud's Atelier very impressed, but ultimately disappointed. The old Peggy Lee song ran through my mind..........Is That All There Is?
July 19, 2010
HOT PARIS AND A COOL RUSSIAN
The purpose of this trip was to accompany my sister to a worrisome medical appointment which, thankfully, turned out not to be as worrisome as expected. She went back to Rome the next day and I decided to stay on for a few days. Unfortunately, some time between arrival and departure I was caught by one of those bugs (not les moustiques: in addition to les moustiques) which gets you by the throat, nose, lungs, limbs, intestines and joie de vivre. What with the heat-wave and intense pollution, joie was drastically reduced and vivre consisted in shuffling very very slowly between cafés and any place with conditioned air, a modern convenience which in normal times I shun, but these are not normal times.
One of the few places where a semblance of natural breeze could be found was the jardin des Tuileries where I slumped in the shade for hours watching energetic backpackers strolling by.
Another was the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, blessedly free from crowds and queues, unlike its more illustrious neighbour, the Louvre.
I had made an appointment to visit Andrei Korliakov as I was eager to meet the Russian historian who had found a long-lost painting of mine (see January 20, 2010 ) and I brought my camera but, engrossed in conversation, stupidly forgot to record this encounter. Never mind, I'll do it next time I'm in Paris. Seeing again my bold, enthusiastic painting of cypress trees in Florence after all these years was a big thrill and I happily complied with Andrei's request that I write on the back to confirm it really was painted by me. It is now part of his very interesting collection of works by Russian (or Russian-connected) artists, most of which he discovered by chance during forays in the marché aux puces.
Korliakov is a genial and dedicated researcher who has made it his life's work to build a record in photographs and documents of a fascinating slice of human history: the exodus of thousands of Russians from the cataclysmic revolution in their homeland to the many other countries where they started new lives. Working alone in his well-equipped Paris studio (state of the art scanner and computers) with the dogged patience and astute persistence of a detective, Andrei assembles the information which he finds or is sent to him by exiled Russians and their descendants, into impressive albums that are produced, published and distributed by himself. His next volume will be about Russians who went to South America and I promised to send him all material I have about my father's experiences in Paraguay and Brazil. If anyone reading this has Russian relatives or friends with connections to South America, or anywhere else in the world, do get in touch with Andrei (email and postal address are on his website). Such fortuitous links are the raw material his research depends on.
I mentioned a painting I did long ago of an old man, Colonel Kermanoff, who lived near my father's property outside Asunciòn and to my astonishment, Andrei instantly located a photo of Kermanoff as a young man: it seems he was an important person in the pre-Soviet army and the records show he eventually ended up in Paraguay. Who knew? Another serendipitous happening!
Coming up next is my impression of the Lucian Freud exhibition at the Pompidou Centre.
July 16, 2010
AN ALTERNATIVE WORLD CUP
(Mosquito cartoon respectfully borrowed from here )
It was in room 301 up three steep flights of stairs in a small undistinguished hotel near the Porte de Versailles metro station that, on the night of the World Cup final, I fought my own brave battle against a ruthless and perfectly trained team, determined to steal at least one goblet-full of my fresh, formerly French blood, if not the whole bloody barrel.
The temperature in Paris was around 38 Centigrade and humid so of course I had the window open (air conditioning? Hahahahaha. Ventilateur? Pas possible.) Outside this window were other windows and a very green, very leafy tree whose very tall trunk stood in a courtyard littered with indeterminate junk of vegetable, mineral or possibly animal origin. How could I know that all these factors combined provided the perfect conditions for the enemy to perform at its lethal best?
The first I knew that there even existed an enemy in my room was when, right up against my ear, I heard its sinister high-pitched ziiiiiiiiieeeee cry, instantly setting off the rage and panic bells in my brain. Whether it's because that sound reminds me of nights under mosquito nets in Paraguay, or some more ancient atavistic fear, the fact is that the buzz of a mosquito drives me nuts, completely bonkers. I began by merely flailing and flapping, then hiding under the sheet, then feeling I might suffocate, then tried to build a kind of tent with a suitcase supporting the sheet on the right, a bag on the left, and me in the middle preventing the sheet from sagging by keeping knees bent and elbows raised. When I realised I would have to stay awake all night to maintain this position I wrapped every bit of my body, apart from the head, tightly in the sheet, first spraying my face with a hair-volumising product (okay I use hair volumiser sometimes, okay?) because it says on the label that it contains limonene and didn't I read somewhere that mosquitoes don't like lemon? The stuff is sticky and not meant for the face but what the hell if it repels mini-vampires.
Then I wanted to watch Spain beat Holland but the television was placed way up on the wall opposite the bed so I had to unwrap myself and get on a chair to turn it on. During this process, the dreaded mosquito war-cry was heard again, more piercing than all the vuvuzuelas in Africa. This time I yelled back. But is a creature who's been around since Jurassic times going to be impressed by a pipsqueaked FUCKOFF ? No, it is not. My strategy had to be more radical.
I decided to sleep on the floor of the bathroom, the tiny bathroom, and to close the door so the enemy couldn't get in. I took the heavy bedspread, folded it and put it down on the tiled floor, between the toilet, the shower cubicle and the basin (if there was a bathtub I would have slept in it). Leaving the door slightly open so I could watch the match in the crack I laid down in a Z-shaped position. Suddenly a faint movement on the white-tiled wall caught my eye. No no no! A mosquito was sitting there, calm as custard, waiting. In the split second before my hand obeyed my brain's order to squash him dead, he slipped away. I looked upwards and noticed for the first time a very small open window, high on the bathroom wall. Kaputt my bathroom plan. But crazed logic said that by locking him in the bathroom, at least I could make sure this one blood-craving addict didn't get to me . Then I went back to bed and sort of watched the rest of the World Cup final until, worn out by my inept exertions, the unbearable heat and the lack of oxygen under the covers, I drifted into unprotected sleep.
In the morning I counted 15, FIFTEEN great big ugly itching flaming scarlet welts on my right wrist and forearm, my hip and the left side of my face. The buggers can score right through a cotton sheet.
Later today I'll blog about what I did in Paris apart from being attacked by les moustiques. Stay tuned for a visit to Andrei Korliakov (remember? He found my painting of Florence in the marché aux puces ) and also to Lucian Freud (the paintings, not the person).
July 7 , 2010
DNA, STATE 4
To anyone who visits here regularly, sorry for the long gaps lately. I've been otherwise engaged but will return and take up all unfinished business (including La Vie en Rosé) very soon. Am away from tomorrow until early next week but meanwhile, here's an update on the painting. The palette and brushes in the corner on the right of this photo are the real ones - just in case you're wondering.