japonisme: 11/22/09 - 11/29/09

27 November 2009

reviewing the reviewer: Peter Schjeldahl

schjeldahl's way with a word every bit equals matisse's with a brush. one ogles, awed. as i amble through his 2005 review of hilary spurling's “Matisse the Master: The Conquest of Colour 1909-1954” in the new yorker, maybe you'll agree.

"[His] art, whose glory was maintained and renewed in many phases until the artist’s death, in 1954: preternatural color, yielding line, boldness and subtlety, incessant surprise. Anyone who doesn’t love it must have a low opinion of joy. "

"this book completes the job of giving us a living individual, as familiar as someone we have long known, who regularly touched the spiritual core of Western modernity with a paintbrush.... I don’t think it is possible to be more intelligent in any pursuit, or more serious and original, and with such suddenness, than Matisse was when he represented a reaching arm in “Dance I” (1909), or the goldfish that he painted as slivers of redness in a series of still-lifes in 1912. How can intellectual potency be claimed for an artist whose specialty, by his own declared ambition, was easeful visual bliss?"

"His immense notoriety, which had been confirmed in 1905-06 by “Le Bonheur de Vivre,” a fractured fantasia that seemed to trash every possible norm of pictorial order and painterly finesse, was regularly exciting near-riots of derision in the public. (“My Arcadia,” Matisse called the picture, which established his career’s dizzying keynote: calm intensity or, perhaps, intense calm.) His huge-hipped, sinuous “Blue Nude,” of 1907, discomfited even Picasso, who complained, “If he wants to make a woman, let him make a woman. If he wants to make a design, let him make a design. This is between the two.”

"Matisse told his students, One must always search for the desire of the line, where it wishes to enter, where to die away.... Colors enter the world through Matisse like harmonies through Mozart. Gertrude Stein (unlike her sister-in-law Sarah Stein, Matisse’s first major collector) enjoyed ridiculing him, reporting with satisfaction, Spurling says, that her French cook served M. Matisse fried eggs for dinner instead of an omelette because, as a Frenchman, he would understand that it showed less respect."

"[Matisse] shielded his art from politics under all circumstances—he created the reverberant domestic idyll “The Piano Lesson” (my favorite twentieth-century painting) in the summer of 1916, while death swaggered at Verdun. But there seems to be no gainsaying his at least passive solidarity with the Resistance."

"Among Matisse’s students was Olga Meerson, a Russian Jew who had studied with Wassily Kandinsky in Munich and, already possessed of an elegant style,... Spurling writes, She personified the pride, courage and resilience that he responded to all his life at the deepest instinctual level in his female models. She also epitomized a period type of 'self-reliant single girl,' an obsessive subject for Matisse in those years, which Spurling locates between the earlier heroines of Henry James and the later solitaries of Jean Rhys. Matisse’s 1911 portrait of Meerson shows a primly dressed and posed, tremblingly sensitive woman slashed with two fierce black arcs—plunging from neck to thigh, and from armpit to buttock,” which resist any explanation aside from their sheerly formal éclat."

"The Nice odalisques, who loll on chairs or chaises amid flowers, fruits, and sumptuous fabrics. Indubitably erotic, the pictures diffuse arousal. Their sensuality never fixates on a breast or a thigh but dilates to every square inch of canvas. Such is the character of Matisse’s formal radicalism, early and late: distributed energy, suspended gesture, deferred climax. Might the tension have been so precious to him, as the engine of what gave his life meaning, that its only end could be exhaustion? It may count that, according to Matisse, he never ate even the fresh food that he used for still-lifes—including oysters, from a restaurant in Nice, that were returned in time for the lunch crowd." I

both evan in his comments and thomas in his discussion of brunellleschi suggest various bits of evidence of the japanese influence's journey taking the next steps to modernism -- saying more and more with less and less. cubism (a name allegedly coined by matisse), art deco, bauhaus: simplify, simplify, simplify. in matisse's work we see his plunge into shape, and color, and even abstraction.

don't miss his lovely green triangles across from each other above.

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25 November 2009


24 November 2009

connect the dots

how do you choose what to wear? are garments always costumes, assuring that you will be taken by others as the role you wish to fill? there are those who suggest that every single item of clothing is a choice communicated, down to the last nuance, and a statement made, down to the last whisper.

me, i am driven by color. and cotton. and though i believe i have no consciousness of what is fashionable whatsoever, there remains something of great importance about it all.

i can remember the white empire-waisted sheath that i wore for high- school graduation. it had a black cummerbund with white polka dots. i was, and still am, quite delighted that i could find an enameled bracelet that was white with black polka dots to match.

several times here we've discussed the volumes of identity revealed in various cultures by hairdo, or costume, detail, or grand gesture. if it was true then, it must be true now. something as 'simple' as a woman's fingernails might immediately brand her as 'one of us' or not.

do you want it to be true for you? do you communicate through appearances consciously? might you be kidding yourself, telling a different story entirely than the one you believe you're telling? how is your identity spelled out by your clothes?

i have come to believe that identity, appearance, opinion are, for most of us, invisibly malleable -- we think what we think, wear what we wear, even know ourselves to be who we think we are... to fit into the group of our life. it could be dangerous not to.

to be born 'outside the box' changes the perception of this, but does not wholly negate its pull. we like to think we create ourselves out of free will, but if that were true best friends wouldn't dress alike, nobody would call to ask what to wear to the party.

that old song, 'you've got to be taught how to hate,' well, you've got to be taught everything else too. how can something so unimportant be the most important thing of all?

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22 November 2009

smoke...? mirrors...?


To prepare the body,
aim for the translucent perfection
you find in the sliced shavings
of a pickled turnip.
In order for this to happen,
you must avoid the sun,
protect the face
under a paper parasol
until it is bruised white
like the skin of lilies.
Use white soap
from a blue porcelain
dish for this.
Restrict yourself.
Eat the whites of things:
tender bamboo shoots,
the veins of the young iris,
the clouded eye of a fish.

Then wrap
the body,
as if it were a perfumed gift,
in pieces of silk
held together with invisible threads
like a kite, weighing no more
than a handful of crushed chrysanthemums.
Light enough to float in the wind.
You want the effect
of koi moving through water.

When the light leaves
the room, twist lilacs
into the lacquered hair
piled high like a complicated shrine.
There should be tiny bells
inserted somewhere
in the web of hair
to imitate crickets
singing in a hidden grove.

Reveal the nape of the neck,
your beauty spot.
Hold the arrangement.
If your spine slacks
and you feel faint,
remember the hand-picked flower
set in the front alcove,
which, just this morning,
you so skillfully wired into place.

How poised it is!
Petal and leaf
curving like a fan,
the stem snipped and wedged
into the metal base—
to appear like a spontaneous accident.

Cathy Song

Cathy Song, “Ikebana” from Picture Bride. Copyright © 1983 by Cathy Song.


The bonsai tree
in the attractive pot
could have grown eighty feet tall
on the side of a mountain
till split by lightning.

But a gardener
carefully pruned it.
It is nine inches high.
Every day as he
whittles back the branches
the gardener croons,
It is your nature

to be small and cozy,
domestic and weak;
how lucky, little tree,
to have a pot to grow in.
With living creatures
one must begin very early
to dwarf their growth:
the bound feet,
the crippled brain,
the hair in curlers,
the hands you
love to touch.

Marge Piercy

Copyright © 1969 by Marge Piercy

and where's the line
between copy and inspire?

just which flower is the poppy of desire?
who's the who to whom you must be true?

once you've lost it, how can you find you?

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