A Movie to Celebrate Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and pay tribute to the Canadian spirit, I’d like to recommend the movie Maudie, about the folk art painter Maud Lewis (1903-1970). Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Maud lived with her brother Charles in their family house until he sold it. In the movie, Maud overhears Charles telling their Aunt Ida he will pay her to accommodate and look after Maud in her home.

Maudie

Born with a small frame, disfigured facial features and deformed fingers, Maud suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis as an adult. Such handicaps however do not cripple Maud’s sanguine spirit and fierce independence. While staying at her Aunt’s place, she answers an ad for a housekeeper posted on the bulletin board of the local store. She jumps at the opportunity as she sees it as a way to move out of her Aunt’s and strive for her own independence.

The house that needs a housekeeper is home to Everett Lewis, a fish peddler in the village of Marshalltown, on Nova Scotia’s northwestern shore. Everett’s abode is a cramped, one-room hut with no running water or electricity. With her arthritic hands Maud cleans the floorboards and tends to Everett’s daily needs, cooking on the wood stove and bearing with Everett’s demeaning outbursts. The rule of the house is, he first, then his dogs, his chickens, and lastly, Maud.

Does Maud feel defeated? Well sure, but just temporarily. Her resilient and cheerful spirit can move even a mountain of a misanthrope. Not long after, she and Everett got married. “A pair of odd socks,” she says of their seemingly incompatible personalities. We hear it often nowadays, “diversity is strength”. The Lewis’s household is evidence to that.

And of course, there’s the economic factor.

Maud turns Everett’s dingy house into a pleasant abode. She begins to paint on every surface: the walls, windows, door, stove, washbasin with lively flowers, birds, and whatever she sees in nature. She also picks up small, discarded wood boards to paint scenery and snowscapes. Not long after, a sign “Paintings for Sale” is placed outside their tiny house to diversify the household economy.

Deer painting

Maud is one successful entrepreneur. Her folksy paintings soon draw the attention of passers by; the cheerfully decorated little house on the wayside soon becomes a stop for designated shopping and repeat customers, a point of interest for visitors. Later, it becomes a converging site for news crews and journalists. Each piece of board painting is sold for about five to six dollars, a card, 10 cent. Everett is the finance minister and holds the purse strings.

The movie presents Maud’s story with beautiful and absorbing cinematography. The pace is slow, allowing viewers to immerse in the outwardly harsh life of Maud’s, in contrast to her vibrant spirit and life-affirming talents. A tiny window is a frame of the world outside. The last part of the film comes to a sad note as Maud succumbs to illness of the lungs.

Now, to the making of the movie. The subject is Canadian, Maud Lewis is very much a Canadian folk art icon, her works are in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The filming location is Newfoundland and Labrador. But note this: the movie is helmed by Irish director Aisling Walsh (BAFTA nom Fingersmith, 2005), Maud is played by the English actor Sally Hawkins (Oscar nom Blue Jasmine, 2013), Everett is played by American actor Ethan Hawke (Oscar nom Boyhood, 2014). If I were a protectionist ruler, I wouldn’t have let them come in to make it.

But then again, this is Canada, eh?

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 RIPPLES

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RELATED POST ON RIPPLE EFFECTS:

Séraphine and the wrought-iron chair 

 

 

 

 

Tate Modern: Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition

TUESDAY, OCT. 4

Six years ago I first visited Tate Modern. I was wowed by its ingenuity, a derelict power plant on the south bank of the River Thames converted into a modern art gallery. I didn’t hesitate to revisit this time around.

The Tate Modern was designed by the Swedish architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the 2001 winner of the Pritzker Prize, the ‘Nobel Prize’ of architecture.  Their concept of maintaining the industrial motif and juxtaposing it with the artistic is a marvellous idea.  Furthermore, they have turned the massive, hollow industrial space in the centre into a welcoming people space, the Turbine Hall. When I got there on an overcast Tuesday morning, I saw people, many are families with children and babies, lay on the massive floor space, yes, actually lying down, to view the mobile, mixed media installation from the ground.

How much more ‘grassroot’ can you get? The symbolism is ingenious as the people space breaks down the barrier of ‘high art’ and ‘public art’. In another area, several large helium-filled fish ‘balloons’ floating in mid-air, kids and adults playing with them. Interactive art, like an invisible sign saying, ‘Please do touch the art objects.’

While most of the collections were free and photography was allowed, I was excited to learn their current event was a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition, paid admission and no photography. Interesting to note that there’s no O’Keeffe works in UK public collections, thus making this exhibition all the more rare and valuable.

Before I entered the exhibition room, I only had one image in my mind: flowers. Georgia O’Keeffe was a painter of flowers, wasn’t she? And with 100 pieces of O’Keeffe’s works on exhibit, lots of flowers. How wrong I was.

Certainly, the cover of this beautifully designed accordion pamphlet uses the iconic O’Keeffe subject of flowers, but I soon found that she was a highly versatile artist, and cerebral in style and subject matter. No photos were allowed in there so I had to take a picture of the pamphlet for you to visualize. For the rest of the post, I’m afraid I’ll have to make do with my clumsy written words to describe my experience with the magnificent visuals.

 

georgia-okeeffe-exhibition

Here’s a synopsis of the exhibition in a sequence of rooms following the life of O’Keeffe as an artist. And thanks to this compact, informative pamphlet, I’m still learning even after I’ve come home.

1. The Early Years – abstractions in charcoal, made while she was an art teacher in Virginia and Texas. There are colourful watercolours and vivid oil paintings inspired by the landscapes of both States. My fave has to be the Red and Orange Streak, 1919. So here I see Georgia O’Keeffe, the emerging abstract painter.

2. Moved to New York in 1918 and produced more abstraction while exploring other artistic possibilities such as chromesthesia, where musical tones elicit particular colours, “the idea that music can be translated into something for the eye”. This is also the period when she painted more sensory content, and for some, eroticism is evoked. I like this quote: “When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs.”

3. O’Keeffe, Stieglitz and their Circle. As muse, collaborator, and finally spouse of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe is presented in photography in this section. I find O’Keeffe’s personal portraits particularly revealing; Stieglitz’s portraits of her all exude a special boldness and independence. Here we see her beginning fondness of clouds, depicted in A Celebration 1924, the year they married. Clouds evolving into petals later?

4. O’Keeffe the New Yorker. I never knew. Here I see her stylistic depiction of the urban cityscape of NYC. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived on the 30th floor of a skyscraper, a convenient vantage point to paint tall buildings. “… I think that’s just what the artist of today needs for stimulus.” After the 1929 Wall Street crash, however, she moved out of NYC. The vision of the urban promise dismantled with the market crash.

5. Upstate, New York, Maine, and Canada. Lake George, trees, clouds, apples and leaves. For a change, from metropolitan New York to Nature.

6. Finally, we begin to see her flower paintings. They are huge. The photo of the pamphlet cover above, Jimson Weed/ White Flower 1, 1932, is 48″ x 40″. BTW, I just checked online, that painting is the world’s most expensive painting by a woman. Walmart heiress Alice B. Walton bought it for $44.4 million in 2014. I should have looked at it a while longer. But from the short stop when I stood in front of it, I could see the gradual change of light and shadow on the petals, meticulously painted. Most impressive was the sheer size of it.

Why paint a tiny flower this big? Here’s O’Keeffe’s answer:

“Nobody sees a flower, it’s so small… I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it… I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers…”

7. New Mexico: Taos and Alcalde. Paintings of the vast, horizontal expanse of the land in contrast to the vertical, tall skyscrapers of NYC, earth-built dwellings, crosses, Native American and Spanish colonial features. In Taos O’Keeffe met Ansel Adams and other artists.

8. O’Keeffe found the white bones and animal skulls left on the barren Southwestern desert a worthy subject for her paintings. A sharp, harsh contrast with the soft petals of flowers, but the light and shadow gradients convey the same fondness from the artist’s eyes.

9. Red earth, pink cliff of the landscape in the Southwestern expanse. O’Keeffe discovered Ghost Ranch, a tourist attraction and later bought her first home there. During the 1930’s to the 40’s, she delved into the area with immense passion, especially the flat-top mountains or mesa.

10. White Place and Black Place, two locales she continued to stylize in her painting. From the realism of the earthy desert expanse shifted to more stylized contrast of white and black.

11. The artist continued her focus on bones, in particular, the holes in them; when she lifted them up towards the sky, the blue piercing out from these holes. The bones too are symbols of death and destruction, a parallel of WWII and the death of Stieglitz in 1946.

12. The Southwest and Native American influences on her subjects while living in New Mexico during the 1930’s and 40’s.

13. Lastly, from landscapes to skyscapes. I was confronted with another huge painting, inspired from her airplane travels during the 50’s and 60’s: Sky Above the Clouds III, 1963. Since I couldn’t take any pictures at the exhibition, I just have to do this. Here, take a look at this photo of the pamphlet, section 13 on the right. The painting is on there. Clouds like ice floes against a distant, pinkish sky.

sky-above-the-clouds

 

Definitely more than just flowers.

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

 Tate Modern and Billy Elliot

Alex Colville and the Movies 

Art Gallery of Ontario

Beauty and Terror

 

Munch 150: The Works Still Scream

This captivating documentary is the second installment of the ‘Exhibition: Great Art On Screen’ series with host Tim Marlow. An ‘event film’, the term refers to this kind of doc focusing on a special occasion, here, the 150th year of the renowned Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch’s birthday (1863-1944). To celebrate, a comprehensive exhibition of Munch’s works is being held in two venues in Oslo from June to October, 2013, the National Museum and the Munch Museum. The film captures the highlights of this exhibition.

I soon learned too that the theatre charged more for the experience. However, the $17 ticket is acceptable. Short of seeing the actual paintings at the two venues and being free to walk around, I’ve saved a hefty plane ticket to Oslo, and I get to see the works magnified clearly on the big screen and hear expert commentary so I can appreciate even the minute brushstrokes up close. Sure, I can always wear a headphone, if it’s available, to hear the commentary while walking through the exhibition. But it’s a refreshing experience to look at the paintings enlarged on a giant screen, hearing in-depth analysis juxtaposed with dramatized biopic vignettes as I sit back and eat popcorn in a dark, air-conditioned theatre on a hot summer day.

The film Munch 150 has aptly taken advantage of the medium of the cinema. Unlike the previous film in this series, Manet: Portraying Life, which ironically, is devoid of life, Munch 150 has presented to the viewer what such a medium can best do. The camera as a guide and magnifying glass, projecting onto the big screen images larger than life, accompanied by insights from curators and host Tim Marlow, an audio-visual experience. Yes, I’ve mentioned ‘big screen’ several times. That is essentially the benefit that the TV screen or your computer monitor would not suffice.

Edvard Munch (Norwegian pronunciation: [ˈmuŋk], in English, something like ‘Moonk’ with a glottal sound on the ‘n’) was born in 1863 in a small Norwegian village. His family moved to Kristiania (now Oslo) the next year. From an early age, Munch was haunted by death and illness. He first saw his mother die of tuberculosis when he was five, and later, his beloved older sister Sophie tormented and died of the same illness when he was fourteen. He himself was plagued by frequent sickness, and at one time was near death with tuberculosis. Physically struggling with poor health, inwardly, Munch was often stricken by desires and guilt. Nihilistic thoughts added burning fuel to an already troubled soul. These all led to alcoholism, depression and breakdown later in life.

Writing and painting became his outlets. Journals allowed him to spill his thoughts, and the canvas was the visceral medium for him to release deep, psychological turmoils. His fears and anguish, all angst and pains found expression in his art.

The Sick Child

I was particularly impressed by his early work The Sick Child (1885-86), depicting the trauma he had experienced as he watched his beloved, ailing sister Sophie lay in bed frail with tuberculosis. A grieving woman holding her hand, head bowed in sorrow. It was a disturbing scene, and yet I’d appreciated the colours and brushstrokes that seemed as if they were just rendered in a free and haphazard way. From the commentary, I felt the poignancy.

The Sick ChildThe camera and commentator guided me to see the scratches left on the canvas, most noticeably on the pillow near Sophie’s face, something which I wouldn’t have noticed if I just walked by it in the museum. These scratches were troubling to look at, probably made by a pallette knife, or a hard brush. They were marks of anguish and frustration, the outburst of emotions during what must have been a painful process. Munch always left ‘blemishes’ on his paintings. Here, the scratches and patchy layers of paints on paints showed raw emotions unleashed. That was the reason the work was met with criticisms and rejections in his day. It was not pretty and neat as his predecessors had done. He was, literally, painting outside the lines.

The Frieze of Life

Many of Munch’s more well known works are in the series called The Frieze of Life—A Poem about Life, Love and Death. The Munch Museum in Oslo exhibits the paintings as a series on four white walls in a room — and here’s the unconventional — without frames. The curator commented that this was what Munch would have intended. Without the distractions of the frames, the paintings speak out loud and clear. In The Frieze of Life, Munch explored the very essence of being human, the frameless, existential experience that is universal.

The Scream (1893)

The_ScreamThe Scream is in the section of The Frieze of Life categorized as ‘Angst’. It is the most well-known of Munch’s paintings. A deathlike skull-face devoid of gender, hands covering the ears and screaming out into the void. Munch painted this after an actual experience while he was walking in the woods, hearing a huge scream inside him. He was overcome with fear. After that episode, he painted The Scream. In it is a figure that has since become the epitome of existential angst. I’d appreciated the comment in the film stating that ‘it’s an icon, not a cliché.’

The Scream made history just last May. It had set an auction record for a piece of art work, fetching $119.9 million (£74m) at Sotheby’s in New York. Almost seventy years after his death, Munch’s works still scream.

The Girls on the Bridge (1901)

The Girls on the BridgeA more delightful painting, The Girls on the Bridge is fresh, bright, and colourful, exuding a summer spirit. But even in this work, Munch depicted the struggles between innocence (white dress) and desire (red). And while we see the green clump of a tree, full of life, we also see its ominous, dark reflection on the water. In the midst of life, we are in death. Munch seemed like a party pooper, but maybe that’s why he needed to scream. Or else we wouldn’t have heard him.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The next and last installment in the series is Vermeer and Music.

Sources of images: Wikipedia

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Related Posts:

Art and Cliché

Arles: In the Steps of Van Gogh

Inspired by Vermeer

Edward Hopper, William Safire: The Visual and the Word

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Gifts to Myself

December 26 is Boxing Day in Canada.  Like Black Friday in the US, that’s the time to pick up bargains, and pay half the price you did just two days before.  And like Black Friday, it’s the time for legitimate self indulgence for the common good, our economy.

In recent years I’ve avoided shopping on Boxing Day. I know some people getting up at 5 am to line up for a store opening at 6.  My own experience of the Boxing Day craze had been standing 3 or 4 people deep, stretched out my arm to the sale table and grabbed whatever I could out of it, hopefully something I needed.

Out of curiosity, I gave it a try again this time around… and sure glad I ventured out.  I didn’t have to fight the crowds, and waited just a bit longer in line-ups . But well worth it.  Here are some of the gifts I got for myself at half price: wall calendars which I won’t be hanging up.

I know, prices here are not as low as in the US… we’re always paying a few dollars more in printed products. But just about $10 each, these beautiful art calendars are good buys for me. Best of all, I found all my favorite artists.  Those familiar with Ripple Effects would know.  I’ve posted on Vermeer (Dutch, 1632-75) here, Edward Hopper (US, 1882-1967) here, and images of René Magritte (Belgian, 1898-1967) here and here.  So I was really excited to be able to find big prints of their works.

VERMEER 2011


 

The 12 paintings are some of Vermeer’s well known works.  The cover of course is the most famous, The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665).  If you’re interested, you might like to read my reviews of the book based on this painting and the film adaptation here.

I have seen two of the paintings in the calendar, The Lacemaker (1669) and The Geographer (1668-69), both at The Louvre.  Interesting that the calendar prints are about the same size as the originals, or maybe even a tad bigger, for The Lacemaker.  Here are my photos of them hanging on the wall in the Louvre:

 

But the July print stands out, the only one that has an exterior view.  It’s my favorite of all the twelve months.  The Little Street (1658):

 

 

Edward Hopper 16-Month 2011 Calendar


 

I have 16 prints of some of my favorite Hopper paintings.  A few of them I’ve posted before, asking readers’ opinion on them. Here are a couple more that I’d like to elicit your views:

People In The Sun (1960)

 

 

 

Chop Suey (1929)

 

Magritte 2011


 

The cover is the Belgian artist’s work in 1953, Golconda.  Just wondering… is this the origin of the term “rain man”?  Or, are the men going up like balloons?

René Magritte was born just 16 years after Hopper, and died the same year, 1967.  So contemporaries they had been for some years, but a world of difference in terms of style.  I like the realism and existential elements hidden in Hopper’s works, but I also enjoy Magritte’s surrealist and whimsical images, openly challenging our sense of reality:

The Treachery of Images (1929)

Ceci n’est pas une pipe:  This is not a pipe.  Your take on this?

 

The Interpretation of Dreams (1935)

 

In the past years, I’ve saved up a lot of visuals just like these calendars, as teaching materials for adult ESL.  But this one definitely cannot be used for vocabulary building.  Just hang on… that may well be what Magritte is saying: ‘In a dream world, a horse can be a door, a jug a bird…’  And for that matter, how do you know you’re not dreaming right now?  Mmm… just wondering, has the movie Inception included Magritte in the credits?

 

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Arles: In The Steps of Van Gogh

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #4: Arles

While Paris has her cultured beauty and sophistication, I’d appreciated the change of scenery and warmer weather as I headed south to Provence.  Three hours via the TGV took us to the historic City of Avignon, site of the Papal Palace before the Vatican. We stayed in Avignon for three days, taking daily excursions out to nearby towns.  Arles was a must-see on my list.

Van Gogh moved to Arles from Paris in 1888, seeking the tranquility that was so elusive to him in the big city.  In his letter to his brother Theo upon arrival to Arles, he wrote:

It seems to me almost impossible to be able to work in Paris, unless you have a refuge in which to recover and regain your peace of mind and self-composure. Without that, you’d be bound to get utterly numbed.”    — Tuesday, Feb. 21, 1888.

The fresher and more colourful palette is apparent during this most prolific period of the artist’s life.  Bright yellows, blues, shorter and swirling brush strokes established his signature style.  As for me, I was a bit disappointed to see the sunflowers have already withered in late August.  Fields of yellow were now massive brown.  They would be harvested at a later time for their oil, a good reminder that, for tourists, it’s the view, but for those living here, it’s their livelihood.  The lavenders on the Luberon mountains too had long passed the season.  Note to myself:  Early to Mid July is best if I ever come this way again.

But all was not lost.  I was gratified to follow some of Van Gogh’s footsteps as I explored the clearly posted Van Gogh sites in the town, the scenes and locales where the artist so vividly captured in his paintings.

Arles is a Roman town.  What more prominent to reflect its past glory than the Roman Arena in the town centre.  Why all the arches?  The free flow of pedestrian traffic.  The full seating capacity, 20,000 people, could exit the Arena in 7 minutes.

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Used by gladiators in ancient time, the Arena is still the venue for bullfights:

But Van Gogh’s interest was not so much on the violent action of bullfighting than on the people, as his painting Spectators In The Arena At Arles (December, 1888) clearly shows:

The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum was his hang-out, renamed Café Van Gogh now.  The yellow building upon the backdrop of the blue, starry night had deeply inspired the artist:

Café Terrace At Night (September, 1888):

Van Gogh had wanted to make Arles a hub for fellow artists.  Upon his urging, Gauguin came to join him in October, 1888.  The two painters frequented the Café Terrace many a night but only for two short months.  What happened on December 23rd was reported by the local paper the next day:

At 11:30 pm., Vincent Vaugogh [sic], painter from Holland, appeared at the brothel at no. 1, asked for Rachel, and gave her his cut-off earlobe, saying, ‘Treasure this precious object.’  Then he vanished.[1]

After this incident, Van Gogh was admitted to a local hospital, now the Espace Van Gogh in Arles, a cultural centre:

In January, 1889, Van Gogh returned home to the Yellow House, but for the next few months, suffered onslaughts of hallucinations and delusions. His view of his own condition nevertheless was lucid and even progressive for his time.  His letter to Theo is poignant, as he openly faced his predicament and earnestly sought a solution:

And for the time being I wish to remain confined, as much for my own tranquillity as for that of others.

What consoles me a little is that I’m beginning to consider madness as an illness like any other and accept the thing as it is, while during the actual crises it seemed to me that everything I was imagining was reality.”

— Sunday, April 21, 1889.

On May 8, 1889, he checked himself into the Saint Paul de Mausole, the mental hospital at St-Rémy-de-Provence.  Under the care of his doctor Théophile Peyron, the artist’s condition improved and he thrived in the idyllic environment there.  Art therapy had brought healing and prolific output.  Van Gogh stayed there for a year and created more than 150 paintings.

Dr. Théophile Peyron out at the front garden:

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The olive grove outside St. Paul hospital:

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To his brother Theo, he wrote on Sunday, May 11, 1890:

At the moment the improvement is continuing, the whole horrible crisis has disappeared like a thunderstorm, and I’m working here with calm, unremitting ardour to give a last stroke of the brush.  I’m working on a canvas of roses on bright green background and two canvases of large bouquets of violet Irises…

My Van Gogh trip ended at St. Rémy, and so be it.  I’ve seen the sites wherein the artist was at his most prolific.  I’ve seen the town and surroundings where he found inspiration.  I’ve seen his final solace where he attained some stability and painted with passion.  I’d like to keep these as memories of my travel to Provence.  I could hardly bear to think of his last days, discharged from St. Rémy just a few days after the above letter, headed north to Auvers-sur-Oise on the outskirt of Paris, and in just two short months, succumbed to the recurrence of his illness. He shot himself in the chest with a revolver on July 27, 1890, and died of his wound two days later.

Back to the thoughts I wrote about in my last post: How do we keep art from turning into a cliché?  I think it takes a certain awareness of the artist as a person, plus a measure of empathy and respect for the struggle to live and create… and realizing that the beautiful works are often triumphs in spite of life’s overwhelming adversities, rather than the natural products of bliss and fortune.

To wrap up my travel posts, and taking the risk of turning it into a cliché albeit my motive is pure, here’s the YouTube clip again, Don McLean’s tribute to Vincent:

Some Van Gogh links:

An excellent and comprehensive site for Van Gogh’s letters, 900 of them, poignant account of his life.

The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh Gallery online

Wikipedia: Vincent Van Gogh

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[1]  Rick Steves’ Provence and French Riviera 2010, published by Avalon Travel, p. 69.