Saturday, October 25, 2008

oh, those big, big apples

Hello, everyone!

Much to all of my dear readers' disappointments, I have not written in quite a while. However, be satisfied to know that it was not all in vain, this lack of communication.
On a whim, I purchased a ticket to new York city just 10 days ago. I landed at LaGuardia last monday, eyes open, and heart desperate for some city time.
You see, as much as Chattanooga may have a blooming arts community, and as lucky as I am to work in a studio doing what I love, every girl has got to get her museum time in. And what better way to cure the small-town blues than diving head-first into the art mecca of North America.
First of all, I have to say that being from New York originally, it is not always a place where one can find the solace and quiet needed to experience great art. But then again, New York is a place of irony.
For example, you can feel most alone around the whirling hoards of tourists and shoppers. You can find a millionaire getting his or her shoes just as s*%t -covered as anyone else. You can get pooped on by a pigeon during a moment of sheer bliss. You can watch couples in matching Hawaiian shirts take an honest interest in the audio tour on classical art at the museum. Irony. It's really everywhere. If you believe in God, He has a good sense of humor as far as I am concerned, and there's nothing like 14 million people to show that off.
One of the best moments happened in the Bronx the other night. After a few drinks in the city, a friend and I decided to stop in to a local Burger King (the only thing still open in that particular neighborhood) and get a large french fry to absorb a little of the wine we had enjoyed. Wouldn't you know, at 2 am, the place is packed. Tons of random people, lots of gold chains, kids (yes, kids at that hour) and enough cologne to give you a headache. All at once, behind the squeal of a group of women matching sentiments about baby daddies, Enya begins to play.

F#*king Enya.

Burger King, transformed for that moment, could have been anything from an 80's interpretive dance recital, to a meditation room for sensitive turtleneck- adorned metrosexuals.
Like I said, if you believe in God, I like to think He has a wicked sense of irony.
Another brilliant moment was in SoHo yesterday with my sister, Veronique. I had just decided that my new ritual would be to buy a ring on every trip I take to commemorate my experiences (I needed a reason to buy a ring, ok). We are walking down a busy street, and I see a vendor. I see a cute plastic yellow ring, and decide this to be my prop for the week. The guy says 2 for $5. Great! Now Veronique can start a tradition too. As I am oggling her to pick one, the guy says "make it 3 for $5". And then "or even 4 for $5". hmm. I pull out a $20 bill, and say we just need 2 rings. He looks at the bill, and says he does not have change. I think to myself two things: "c'mon, dude, this is SoHo on friday at 4pm... surely you have sold SOMETHING and have a few bucks for change" or "wow, this guy needs a pack of cigarettes, bad". Just as I am deciding the the latter is probably more true, a friend points out, without my saying a word, that cigarettes in New York are $9.
That would be, like, 6.5 rings.
Veronique, luckily, aids the situation and hands the guy a $5.

All in all, the week was great. A lot of walking, a lot of dreaming, some drinking, plenty of eating, and as many thoughts raced in my head as there are smells in Times Square.
One thing I did notice, in all the chaos that comes with trying to find my way around the Met, is how infinitely simple, elegant, and quiet true masterpieces can be. Like big, sleek, sleeping giants.

One last but most important bit of irony happen as well. I was sitting on the steps of the Met, sun outside, kids playing and laughing, and me feeling a little sorry for myself about some things that happened in Chattanooga in my personal life before I came to New York. I called a friend in Boston who is going through a second round of chemo. He said something that we hear all the time. His taste, smell, and senses are all different right now while he is going through the chemo. He said you never really appreciate your capacity to sense good things until they are taken away. Those are some of the wisest words I have heard in a long time. To sense good things. To sense beauty. To sense pain. To sense irony and comedy and foreigness. We forget. In that moment, the sun was warmer, and the wind smelled of ginko leaves. The old people in the museum didn't move quite so annoyingly slow. It's ok that I had forgotten, but it was even better to remember. Thanks J.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Portrait Society Of America

I thought I would introduce people who are not familiar with the Portrait Society of America, ( ) a wonderful organization chaired by Gordon Wetmore. Gordon works in a studio in the same building as my own. Over the past two years, I have gotten to know him and the PSA, and have been constantly impressed at the generosity of both.
The reason for my writing on this subject is that today and tomorrow, I will be volunteering and posing for a workshop and demonstration through the PSA. Tonight, Michael Del Priore will be giving a demo in front of a group of painters and students at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Tomorrow, Michele Anderson, Michael, and Gordon will be giving a workshop on portrait painting.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a big advocate of getting involved in organizations that support artistic/career/ educutional growth. If you have a chance, check out the website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rain and Rainer

It's a rainy day here in Chattanooga. The water seems to make all the colors harmonize. This is the view from outside of my window... the Tivoli theater is a wonderful old theater that houses the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra.
Today, in honor of my sister, Veronique, the poet, and also to honor the wonderfully thoughtful rain,I am going to post one of my favorite poems. It is by Rainer Maria Rilke. It's rather long, but totally worth the read.

The First Elegy
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note of my dark sobbing.
Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world.
Perhaps there remains for us some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take into our vision;
there remains for us yesterday's street and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.
Oh and night: there is night, when a wind full of infinite space gnaws at our faces.
Whom would it not remain for--that longed-after, mildly disillusioning presence,
which the solitary heart so painfully meets.
Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.
Don't you know yet?
Fling the emptiness out of your arms into the spaces we breathe;
perhaps the birds will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.
Yes--the springtimes needed you. Often a star was waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolled toward you out of the distant past,
or as you walked under an open window, a violin yielded itself to your hearing.
All this was mission. But could you accomplish it?
Weren't you always distracted by expectation, as if every event announced a beloved?
(Where can you find a place to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
going and coming and often staying all night.)
But when you feel longing, sing of women in love; for their famous passion is still not immortal.
Sing of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising; remember: the hero lives on;
even his downfall was merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back into herself,
as if there were not enough strength to create them a second time.
Have you imagined Gaspara Stampa intensely enough
so that any girl deserted by her beloved might be inspired by that fierce example of soaring,
objectless love and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her?"
Shouldn't this most ancient of sufferings finally grow more fruitful for us?
Isn't it time that we lovingly freed ourselves from the beloved and,
quivering, endured: as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension,
so that gathered in the snap of release it can be more than itself.
For there is no place where we can remain.
Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened:
until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground;
yet they kept on, impossibly, kneeling and didn't notice at all: so complete was their listening.
Not that you could endure God's voice--far from it.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn't their fate, whenever you stepped into a church in Naples or Rome,
quietly come to address you?
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
as, last year, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance of injustice about their death--
which at times slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.
Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,

to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things in terms of a human future;
no longer to be what one was in infinitely anxious hands;
to leave even one's own first name behind,
forgetting it as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one's desires.
Strange to see meanings that clung together once, floating away in every direction.
And being dead is hard work and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel a trace of eternity.
Though the living are wrong to believe in the too-sharp distinctions which
they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don't know whether it is the living they are moving among, or the dead.
The eternal torrent whirls all ages along in it, through both realms forever,
and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.
In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys,
as gently as children outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers.
But we, who do need such great mysteries,
we for whom grief is so often the source of our spirit's growth--:
could we exist without them?
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness;
and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god has suddenly left forever,
the Void felt for the first time that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Burghers of Calais

This past Friday, I went up for a quick visit to the Frist Museum to see a Rodin show. Truly, it sent me into a whole train of thoughts about my own work. I guess masterpieces will do this. There was an entire room dedicated to the progress of the piece above, "The Burghers of Calais". Though the actual piece was not present, Rodin made dozens of studies of each of the figures. Some of you may not know the story of this historical piece. I found this explanation on Wikipedia, and I think it serves as a good overview:

The story goes that England's Edward III, after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais and Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender. Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out almost naked and wearing nooses around their necks and be carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first and five other burghers soon followed suit and they stripped down to their breeches. Saint Pierre led this envoy of emaciated volunteers to the city gates and it is this moment and this poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice and the facing of imminent death that Rodin captures in these figures, which are scaled somewhat larger than life.

The monument was proposed by the mayor of Calais for the town's square in 1880. This was an unusual move, because normally only monuments to Victory were constructed, but France had suffered devastating losses in its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and it longed to recognize the sacrifice that its young men had made. Rodin's design was controversial, as it did not present the burghers in a heroic manner, rather they appeared sullen and worn. The monument was innovative in that it presented the burghers at the same level as the viewers, rather than on a traditional pedestal, although until 1924 the city council of Calais, against Rodin's wishes, displayed the statue on an elevated base.

Some installations have the figures tightly grouped with contiguous bases, while others have the figures separated. Some installations are elevated on pedestals, others are placed at ground level, and at least one is slightly sunken, so that the tops of the bases of the figures are level with the ground.


Amazing. Each of the figures in this group, to me, represents some part of the stages one goes through in accepting difficulty (in this case, death). One of the figures is angry, one is resistant, another seems to have a loss of all hope, and finally there is another that has an air of acceptance and even pride. The fact that Rodin was so adamant about having the figures be level with the viewer really means a lot to how these figures are to be perceived.
There are several people in my life, and in the lives of my friends, who are on the brink of severe hardships. This sculpture rang very loud for me, as I have seen some of those people go through these emotions. Seeing these friends of mine, and seeing this sculpture as a dedication to strength and selflessness gave me some new realizations of why artists are so lucky, and have a huge responsibility. One day I hope to paint something that comes close to preserving what some of the strong people in my life have taught me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


In preparation to go to Nashville this Friday afternoon to get a long-awaited museum dose (there is a Rodin show at the Frist Gallery!) , I have been listening to Frederic Grunfeld's "Rodin: A Biography" read on tape. Oh, how wonderful books on tape can be !! I am SUCH a dorky spokesperson for the library. Please, if any of you get a chance... support your local library.

Anyhow, this 20-tape selection talks about the influences on the young sculptor, France at one of its lowest/highest points, and other sculptors who came into contact with Rodin. Sometimes he sounds like a real arrogant #%*hole, but for the most part, a sensitive man in-tune with nature and many of her nuances. The author also goes on to point out what a strong influence the sculptor Carpeaux had on that generation of other artists. I found the image below online, and thought I would share. I love the subtlety of the pose, the slight shift of all the opposing limbs. I think this sort of idea, if I may say, is something that many artists, including myself, forget. What is it that draws us to John Singer Sargent's slight smiles? In Duveneck's dark glances of someone about to turn towards/ away from us?
I think there is a lot to be said for the moment before an action. Have you ever noticed that many pieces of art depicting some grand action soemtimes look quite static?? What is it that trully portrays an action? ? And can it still be designed? I think this is something the great sculptors like Michaelangelo, Rodin, Carpeaux, and Bernini were all well aware of, and chased it as best they could. This is definitely not a critical response to art. As a painter, I am merely throwing out what I find beautiful and interesting for others to think about.