Walk: Neighborhood Errands Distance: 4 miles and take yoga class
A friend recently asked if I'd seen The Great Beauty and, if so, what I thought of it.
From time to time Ciwt is forced face-to-face with what a lambie pie she still is in certain areas. Her recent viewing of The Great Beauty was such a time. I loved the The Great Beauty, movie that is the equal of the city it portrays. I simply cannot imagine having the talent and sophisticated understanding to wrap my mind, my creative being, and, in this case, camera around the gorgeously complex tableaux that is Rome.
Ciwt remembers her first moments in Rome. A long plane ride, customs, a short train ride into the city and, then, alighting, a flurry of gypsy children rustling newspapers, tugging on my garments, falling/faking injury, any tricks at hand to divert attention so they could grab my purse, suitcase, wallet. It was such an unexpectedly abrupt change of mood, energy and really the world as it operates in the States.
This was not your carefully plotted type of robbery of American caperdom - nor even the exciting shoot um up of Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde. I had money, they wanted it, and, furthermore, they were going to take it if I did not defend against it - all directly in front of the Italian authorities.
From that introduction there were constant reminders of the eternal power grab that has always existed even as the "Eternal City" the "Capital of the World" was somehow and gloriously built. What better symbol of architectural excellence, extreme brutality, human sacrifice, mixture of politics, spectacle, religion and power than The Colosseum?
Ciwt found all this palpably dangerous energy amid the architectural and natural beauty alluring. So alluring she has harbored a yearning to perhaps spend some 'quality time' in Rome.
After seeing The Great Beauty last week, this yearning is under revision - or rather in the process of maturing. Concentrating on the highest social eschelon, the movie glides beautifully like a soaring bird through all the decadence, corruption, evil, cruelty, sickness, death, ennui, tragedies, that still permeate and determine the heart of Rome. This Rome: richly elegant, gaudily predatory, old, dying, alluring, creepy, crepey, an alive museum, gorgeously fantastical. A spectacle of Beauty, Ancient Treasures, many privately owned, Fabrics you can feel with your eyes, Huge Jewels, Euro-Trash Nightlife. The Rome in The Great Beauty is a series of fantastical but real tableaux. So, so far beyond Ciwt's ken, that had she gone again to Rome without seeing The Great Beauty, she might have been a lamb devoured by the founding wolf cubs still foraging through the city.
I still yearn for more time in Rome, but now feel more humbly and realistically positioned for the journey if it comes to pass.
Walk: Vogue Theater (The Wolf of Wall Street - CIWT is trying to escape the turmoil of tomorrow's last Saturday yoga class. Not quite working but still nice to have these movie openings as retreat), Trader Joe's Distance: 2 miles, tiny bit of yoga
Another reason CIWT chose this holiday card as its 2013 winner is its near perfect embodiment of Japonisme. The term is used to refer to the influence of Japanese art on Western artists, particularly those working in Paris in the later 1800's and particularly the Impressionists.
After more than 200 years of near total seclusion, the Japanese Shogun was 'persuaded' by the Kanagawa Treaty of 1854 to open its trade. And soon thereafter Japanese decorative and fine art goods began to flood European and American markets. First to arrive in curiosity shops that sold Japanese goods in the 1860's, and highly influential, were the ukiyo-e Japanese wood-block prints which made a particularly strong impression upon Parisian artists. Painters such as Whistler, Manet, Monet, Degas were fascinated by the quality of this work as well as its style which was so unlike Western art. Particularly they were taken with the wide variety of subject matter, the flat perspective, the asymmetry or off-centeredness (often with a low diagonal), the light with no shadows. All this was so different from the Greco-Roman teachings of the French Academy and began to confer more and more artistic freedom eventually inspiring in fine art Impressionism, Art Nouveau, Cubism and other modern movements.
Nor was Japonisme confined to art. It was heavily influential in music (The Mikado, MadamaButterfly), theater, ceramics, wallpaper, furniture and graphic design, textiles, cloisonne enamel work, jewelry, clothing, hair style as well as the open verse of modern and imagist poetry and other literary forms.
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Before ending, I have a PS to yesterday's entry speculating that the Eiffel Tower might have been controversial during its time. Turns out, I'll say! Here is an excerpt from a petition by 300 of the most prominent French art establishment figures:
"We, writers, painters, sculptors, architects and passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, protest with all our strength, with all our indignation in the name of slighted French taste, against the erection…of this useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower … To bring our arguments home, imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a gigantic black smokestack, crushing under its barbaric bulk Notre Dame, the Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the Dome of les Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all of our humiliated monuments will disappear in this ghastly dream. And for twenty years*…we shall see stretching like a blot of ink the hateful shadow of the hateful column of bolted sheet metal." (Guy de Maupassant, one of the principal signers, supposedly ate lunch in the tower's restaurant every day because it was the one place in Paris where the tower was not visible).
* Originally the Eiffel Tower was to be disassembled after 20 years.
Walk: Corte Madera and Fillmore errands, Sundance Kabuki (Inside Llewyn Davis) Distance: 3 miles and small yoga practice
Probably the main reason Ciwt picked this as her second favorite holiday card to arrive this year is that she likes Crows. Or is it Ravens she likes? Try as she might, she has trouble keeping them straight. Bird people she knows have explained over and over: Crows: smaller, different tail feathers, voice is a caw-caw whereas Ravens sound like a deep, croaking whisper. When it comes time to actually tell one from the other, though, these characteristics don't do the trick.
Ciwt's Holiday Card winner is wonderful for several reasons. The first is that it captures the building of the Eiffel Tower. In all her years of viewing art (including photography) Ciwt has seen many images of the Tower itself, but she has never seen one of the tower under construction. This print is so immediate, brings you back to a city just like your own where there is weather, construction noise. Where traffic is diverted, workmen must work around weather conditions, people are grousing about the attendant annoyances or standing around watching such an unusual edifice in progress. Newspapers are probably writing editorials and publishing letters to the editor taking various positions on the building. It is not a landmark yet; it's just a (probably controversial) new building under construction in a diverse and major city.
The second reason Ciwt favors this card is a bit more complex so she'll write about that another day....
Walk: Sundance Kabuki Cinema Club (Tim's Vermeer), Mindful Body Distance: 3 miles and teach yoga class
Since at least the early 1800's it has been speculated that Jan Vermeer used some sort of optic technology in creating his superb, glowing paintings - one after the other masterpieces of intimate realism - beloved around the world. Now there is a very wealthy techie in Texas, Tim Jenison, who devoted six years of his life to duplicating Vermeer's method and demonstrating that, using it, a completely novice painter such as himself can paint a perfect Vermeer. Which is exactly what he does when he constructs an exact duplicate of Vermeer's studio then proceeds to use brushes, oils and a (convex) mirror to paint Vermeer's The Music Lesson. Jenisonis a longtime friend of Penn Jillette who is the narrator/producer of the documentary Tim's Vermeer and directed by Penn's silent partner Teller.
An entertaining (for a while) well done but not perfect (or entirely accurate on certain art points) documentary, Tim's Vermeer is intelligent fare that causes the viewer to think anew about such large unsolvable but tantalizing quandaries as the criteria for genius, the role of technology (or even assistance) in the art process, the nature of obsession (and certainly Jenison - if not Vermeer - is obsessive) and other art-related questions. Surely it will be on the short list of best documentaries during this award season.
Walk: Mindful Body, Trader Joe's, Arguello Distance: 3 miles and take yoga class
About to leave for a holiday trip, my downstairs neighbor called to say he had a pretty poinsettia that would probably die before he returned and would Ciwt like it. Well, no, actually Ciwt doesn't particularly like poinsettias. But of course I said yes to help him out, figuring I could put it on a hall table or something.
He left it down by my front door and, yikes!
2.5' high/3 ' across. No way it would fit on my little entry table, and it took up nearly my whole landing.
For a non-Christmas, non-poinsettia person, this was too much.
So, what to do? Warning them ahead about its size, I brought it to my yoga studio and they scratched their heads because it was too big for them as well - except way on the top of a bookcase or something. As we were discussing its fate, one of my students walked by and said he had two plants just like it and would love to have a third! So he ended up happily walking out from his massage carrying the big red plant to be with others in his large Victorian home. But as he walked through the door, the huge plant brushed against the frame and two fronds snapped off.
I picked them up, brought them home and now have just the right amount of poinsettia cheer around here.
In the course of the Great Poinsettia Saga I became a bit more curious about poinsettias. Here are a few things I learned:
They are native to Central America and were used by the Aztecs as medicine for fevers. They get their name from Joel Roberts Poinsett who, among many prominent political positions, was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in the 1800's where he first saw poinsettias in bloom. Being an amateur botanist he had cuttings sent to his greenhouse in South Carolina, and when he returned to his plantation in Charleston he cultivated the plants and gave them to friends, family and other botanists. Eventually the plants were cultivated commercially and named in honor of Poinsett.
People see different things in Wayne Thiebaud's art. He's been called a Pop Artist, a Classicist, a Bay Area Figurative painter, an Abstract Artist and more. In this latest exhibition (which it really is since, of the 40+ works on display, only about five are available for purchase), reviewers have seen vestiges of William Butler Yeats' constant revisionism and Angkor Wat. One reviewer somehow saw a very strong reference to Rembrandt's Flayed Ox 1655. To wit: (Rembrandt, Flayed Ox, 1655)
and (Thiebaud, Big Rock Mountain, 2004-12).
They could be right. Wayne Thiebaud does not talk about the emotional content of his work, never has.
CIWT sees Thiebaud conveying the complex, ultimately unfathomable 'mountainousness' of mountains. Like Thiebaud, Ciwt has lived near mountains, the highest of which was in Idaho. There is an omnipresent, prehistoric, hulking 'thereness' to them, quietly, densely, mysteriously playing out their geologic drama. A constant reminder of two scales - geologic and human - somehow involved in a single story.
I see Thiebaud acknowledging the primacy of mountains in this compelling story, deferring utterly to their awe. He makes visual millenniums of geological phenomena that have and continue to form mountains. The eras of tectonic plates, the minerals they were ground into, the make up and dense dimension of the rocks beneath surface topography. And he paints them in so many densely packed colors that they clash, vibrate and come alive, capturing the constant and diverse geomorphology.
Wayne Thiebaud, Rock Mesa, 2010, oil on board, 24x24 in Detail
He shows us what it looks like to live in the presence of mountains:
Wayne Thiebaud, Green Hills Farm, 2008-12, oil on canvas, 36-48in
And, in so doing, he grapples with/meditates on/displays the thinness, precariousness, dangerous unpredictablility of the thin topsoil humans occupy. Wayne Thiebaud, Laguna Rise, 2003-12, oil on canvas, 24x35 7/8in
But he also shows the beauty of the manmade crust. It is there in geologic scale in the paintings: tiny but very colorful, assembled, manicured, pretty, desirable, luscious:
Green Hills Farm -- Detail Yosemite Ridge -- Detail Laguna Rise -- Detail
And in seeing this CIWT's entire sense of what Thiebaud has been painting all these years changed utterly. The crust, the human crust we live in is just as alluring as all those thickly frosted cakes, gooey pies, glossy lipsticks, eclairs, gumballs,
milkshakes, high heeled shoes, bowled cherries, bathing beauties, parfaits, hot dogs, suckers (yeh!) - his lush stand ins for the Deliciousness of life in America. Beguiling, hard to turn away from, very hard to leave.
But, Thiebaud grew up next to mountains and they've been quietly reminding him ever since that the crossing of human with geologic time and life is exceedingly brief. All these human beguilements, this lush and compelling life, rests temporarily on a shifting, cracking, shaking, stretching, shell as precipitously ever-changing as the precarious streets of San Francisco.
This Ciwt had not seen in Thiebaud's work before. When I left the show the mountains stayed with me in all their inexorable evolving and dissolving until I believe, yes, this is what I saw, this is the complex terrain Thiebaud took Ciwt into.
Walk: Mindful Body, Paul Thiebaud Gallery Distance: 2 miles and teach yoga class
Continuing to let Wayne Thiebaud's Mountain Memories works at Paul Thiebaud Gallery speak for themselves before I speak. For Ciwt this show deepens with each day, informs Thiebaud's entire ouevre and all she's ever thought about it. Here are just a few of the 40 plus works in the show.
Wayne Thiebaud, Night Mesa, 2011-13, oil on board, 24"x24" (Detail) Wayne Thiebaud, Peak, 2013, Oil on Canvas, 35 7/8 x 48 (Detail)
Wayne Thiebaud, Canyon Mountains, 2011-12, oil on canvas, 66 1/8 x 59 1/8 (Canyon Mountains 3 Details)
Wayne Thiebaud, Yosemite Ridge, 1975, oil on canvas, 72x36
(Yosemite Ridge 3 Details)
Wayne Thiebaud, Rock Mesa, 2010, Oil on Board, 24x24
(Rock Mesa 2 Details)
Wayne Thiebaud, Blue Ridge Mountain, 2010, oil on canvas, 48 1/8x35 7/8