Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dark Galloping Thoughts

When was the last time that you thought you were mortal? That your gut slithered and your neck hairs bristled? That your soul shook and you thought, this will all end for me?

Ours is a fast cluttered world. To age is a thing we must refute, alter, airbrush away. We must remain fit, of optimum weight, our incomes secured and no baggy knees please! Day after day we are shown the gilded youth of our societies frolicking about - whilst the middle-aged struggle to look good without getting caught out. When tragedies strike - and they are investigated with glee - we tsk-tsk and move on, our hearts stilled by the relief that we and our beloveds are unscathed.

It can feel very soulless. Especially as religion or faith are almost taboo topics. Too much fanaticism involved, and century-old ideas that continue to clash. Where is the balm for all of us?

Over the past couple of months my eldest two sons were lucky enough to find jobs. A huge art exhibition was organised in Palladio's Basilica in Vicenza, near where we live. The guys - dressed in spiffy suits - have been working as custodians in various salons arranged beneath the huge barrel vault, spending afternoons in the company of Rembrandt, Bellini, Matisse, Francis Bacon and Paul Cezanne. Each time I see one of them I ask, So who were you with today? Who is your favourite? It has become a dinner table topic, with one of my sons convinced that Rembrandt's subject is mocking the hoards of people who pore over him. Or that Van Gogh was on drugs.

The paintings are rich, startlingly varied, worth gazillions. They range from exquisite Mantegna and Bellini from the 1400s, to Francis Bacon's writhing nudes on sexy blazing orange; from Durer's portrait of a young man (a punk from 1510!) to Picasso's saucy Italian signora. From El Greco's jarring San Girolamo (looks like my old boyfriend!) to Monet's whispering scenes from a sunny riverbank.

The exhibition maps out a Western voyage from sponsored religious works to a more secular seeking of redemption within the confines of the poor artist's life. Though I adore sweeping through huge galleries this is the thought I am always up against: the painter in a cold studio, perhaps with a headache, bills to pay, over or undersexed, pausing, waiting for the go-ahead for whatever image he is conjuring (NB: women severely underrepresented).

It is beautiful, creativity. It is life. And some of the most touching works were those of Pierre Bonnard and Paul Cezanne, who after lengthy creative lives now depicted their aged faces approaching death. With serenity, without fuss.

That was where my tiny, warm soul shifted. That was where I saw the balm to which I can connect. A creative life. An exploration of light, of colour, of composition. Sometimes it can appear as simple as this.

22 comments:

  1. I've read this twice and feel calmer and more peaceful as a result.

    Last night I pulled a goof on Facebook and it made me realize that I've been holding myself back creatively. By being afraid of reaction, I've narrowed my ability to make art.

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    1. Yes it's good to stop for moment and wonder. And realise that our creative parameters are put in place by ourselves. I too have put the brakes on so many times through doubt, laziness, lack of va-va-vroom. And it's exhausting having a tetchy relationship with oneself.

      I sound quite looney here!

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  2. I wish - my life is devoid of any real culture at the moment!

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    1. I've also had such huge gaps between everyday life and my aspirations. Like two old friends who refuse to talk to one another at a lifelong party.

      I think you almost have to be military in your operations. Writing time. Shopping time. Cleaning time. It ain't easy.

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  3. Intimations of mortality...& worse...are the stuff of reality now for me,approaching my 57th birthday; where is my legacy to the world?... my great poem, my scintillating novel, my sublime fresco, or even a good 'knock-knock' joke?! I'm running through my reserves of time as quickly as sand through an egg-timer...desperation lurks in every thought & action...I must get a grip! But perhaps the best is still yet to come??!

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    1. Well I hope those final (not yet though!) grains of sand help deliver the best knock-knock joke ever! As for legacies to the world - I think the 'world' is not the only measuring bar that there is, and no longer the most reliable (Rihanna? 50 Shades?). I say a visit to see the old and newer masters - while belittling - may be temporarily soothing. Ah but the great poem.. the sublime fresco.. If I go back to the great authors whose fault it is that I have these thoughts (!) my sentiments haven't really shifted: toil away, read, submit, learn, accept defeat, train yourself to soar.

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  4. If I couldn't do my art or be inspired by others' art, I think I would die. I had an experience once, where the threat of not living creatively was dangled in my face. My heart actually felt like it was being compressed. It was horrible.

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    1. I also lived for five years without writing (when contacted by a London agent I was too in love and threw it all away!) in the shadow of someone else's art. I learnt that I don't do secondhand living. I learnt that. I was replaceable.

      The flip side is that I have a sh*tload of things to write about.

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  5. Wow - great for your sons! And looks like an interesting exhibition. I love spending time at museums and exhibitions - and as I gaze at the subjects, frozen in one moment in time, I often think about mortality: how this artist's model lived and loved centuries ago, and here she is on the canvas for us to enjoy hundreds of years later. My enjoyment of art probably also stems from the fact that I'm so disastrous at it. Beyond stick figures, I'm pretty much lost... : )

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    1. Gosh you've just reminded me I used to paint! I did a huge oil portrait of my grandmother for my final high school exam and I believe it's safely stored in someone's garage.

      I used to be torn between image and words but more design and photography and film than painting. I think I'm back to stick figures now too.

      But the paintings! And seeing a Francis Bacon next to a Lucien Freud - really astonishing. In a way it feels distorting, shepherding so many eras and mindsets together, and calling them representatives of Western art (no women I repeat!), that's why it's wonderful to imagine context and life details. Overwhelming, quite mind-blowing.

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  6. My mother and I saw a Van Gogh exhibit many years ago in LA, the first time I had done such a thing. I think until you've seen a master's painting in person, up close, it's difficult to comprehend the power of it. Same for an orchestra, a rock band, a photograph. It's a different experience to be right there IN it.

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    1. This is so true. I remember the first time I drooled over art. My kids have grown up in Italy, so they don't understand what this suburban Sydney chick craved al those years she studied art history. The real thing. How stunning to stand before these works! I don't think I'll ever get over it.

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  7. Spending time around art is so restorative. A few months ago I was away on a busy business trip, all stress and hard work, when I found myself with one free hour before my flight home. I made a dash to an art museum and immediately (immediately!) upon being in the presence of that art, I felt calmed and peaceful -- and more like myself.

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    1. Yes it made me wish I lived in a huge city again with a museum I could visit at will. Vicenza while beautiful is quite small and much of the historical art is based upon the religious. I love it when things get trickier, more individual. It's true there's nothing more fulfilling than a generous art exhibition - it really warms the soul.

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  8. Those lucky boys. I love van Gogh.

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  9. Now, you see, I really am catching up. I often read your posts on the iPad and I'm darned if it will let me comment with my Wordpress URL so I've been reading and moving on. Tonight I decided to come and try to remember some of the comments I wanted to make. Can't remember here, but what a great job for the boys.

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