The punctilious among you will notice that ‘gorgeousity’ is not strictly a word in the English language. This is a nod to Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Alex’s character reacts similarly to how I react whenever beholding a Hopper painting:
Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven! Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh. It was like a bird of rarest-spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!
Hopper (Ashcan School, most important) offers us the direct opposite of interpretation. In fact, he was specifically getting away from what he and others, such as Sloan, saw as the prevalent, very mannered and untruthful Genteel Tradition. He wanted to show everyday life (especially in the great American cities, such as New York) in its toughness, squalor and often alienating loneliness. I think he succeeds very well in this aim. Louise G.
Hopper is widely considered the most important American realist painter of the 20th Century. His idiosyncratic style brings a new vector to realism.
Edward Hopper and his wife first rented a cottage in Truro, Massachusetts, in the summer of 1930, and they would return regularly through the 1950s. Hopper began Office in a Small City while he was staying in Truro in the summer of 1953, and he finished it in his New York studio in the fall. Rather than depicting the Cape Cod landscape, however,Office in a Small City is a scene that could have taken place in any American town in the mid-twentieth century. Hopper’s explanation of his earlier work Office at Night (1940; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis – below) also applies to this painting: “My aim was to try to give the sense of an isolated and lonely office interior rather high in the air, with the office furniture which has a very definite meaning to me.” Edward Hopper
This painting, for me, is the height of isolation. We do not know this office worker’s profession, location or emotional state. He seems utterly alone in this world that I am finding it difficult to describe what I see to you. What I do notice is that he does not seem to be doing much work. I know I will only role my sleeves up if it is exceptionally hot or if I am done for the day. Certainly the enormous windows is his corner office and the sun shining through hint to the former. With all this space he still seems trapped. As an aside, observe the fake decorative front of the building. This in contrast with the starkness of the room could be seen to be Hopper evoking his disdain for modern Utilitarian living.
The subject leans back on his chair observing the world go by, yet is totally detached from it as it does so. The contrast between his small stature and the vastness of the outside world further confirms the crushing loneliness of this piece.
I am so moved by this painting. These times are desperately difficult for us all and it is wonderful to see loneliness depicted through someone else’s vision, especially one as illuminating as Edward Hopper’s. I hope this painting brings some comfort and a reminder that there is always someone whose loneliness is more vast than ours.
The Daily Art App, which I am now realising should be funding this blog, has once again thrown me an artistic morsel which I shall now chew on for your reading pleasure. Did you enjoy that mixed metaphor? I did not. Monet is one of the founders of the impressionist movement. On a side note, he was French. But that’s enough vulgarity for now. Monet painted this, one in a series of three, while staying at a hotel-restaurant in Pourville, a fishing village in Normandy, This is the owner, Paul Antoinne Graff, in his chef’s attire. Let’s delve into this a little deeper.
I love this portrait. These were so rare for Monet that the two he painted of Paul-Antoine and Eugénie with her lovely terrier (below) were a real testament to their close friendship. What I love about Monet is his confidence. In a time where artists went to great lengths to conceal their brush strokes in an effort to evoke an exact resemblance of what they are depicting. Monet paints in a way to deliberately show his brush strokes. This is part of my fascination with his portraits.
Observe the crude rendering of the beard, which is so wonderful to me. The curls in his hair and how Monet shows the grey hairs coming in sparsely is lovely. Look at how few brush strokes the artist has used to create a cooking jacket. Finally observe the minute swirl of brush strokes in the face to highlight the subject’s expression. I think this is very fine and worthy of much lauding.
As an aside, do observe this painting Monet made of Mme Graff, the aforementioned chef’s wife. Here she is looking longingly to the right while her terrier, Follette, looks directly at the painter. Now, what both of these portraits were designed to be looking longingly at a third painting – one of Mme Graff’s butter cakes!
This painting is worth another whole post in itself, but I am not so desperate for material as to subject you to that. Observe the extraordinary detail to showcase Mme Graff’s wrinkles! Her neck ribbon is also a delight to behold. And Follette is just adorable. Monet painted another portrait of Folelette by herself, but I will leave this to you to discover in your further research.
I’d like to close with the above, titled L’Alley Point, Low Tide, which money also painted in Pourville in 1882 during his stay with the Graffs. I am awe struck by this. The colours, the movement in the water, the people in the distance, the sky, the white rendering on the cliffs – every aspect of this is so masterful that I could not keep it from you, dear readers.
I hope you have enjoyed this short dissection. Please stay safe in this trying time.
I came across Jean François Millet some weeks ago when my DailyArt app sent me The Gleaners, his 1897 masterpiece. I was so impressed by this that I dug a little deeper into the Millet catalogue and found Hunting Birds at Night, also known as Bird’s Nesters. Jean François Millet founded the Barbizon School, which was devoted to “accuracy in its depictions of rural peasant life and realism in landscapes (David’s Art of the Day)”. He was known for @soft lighting, scenes of peasant farmers, and devotion to visual and emotional realism (Ibidem)”. Let’s explore this painting further.
This 1874 painting is drawn from scenes from Millet’s childhood. At night, he would go out with members of his household to blind large flocks of pigeons, then club them with big sticks and collect the fallen fowl. This rather barbaric act of violence against poor innocent, but no less irritating, pigeons is depicted quite gracefully.
Many aspects of this painting jump out to me immediately and I’d like to discuss these. Firstly and perhaps chiefly is the use of light here. Light is the central theme of the painting but also of the act depicted in the painting. But look at how dramatic and explosive the lighting is. Observe how beautifully the light dissipates the further you get from its focal point and how well rendered the shadows of the flying fowl are against it. Millet does show us how massive the flock was and how panicked they would be during this barbarous act. David suggests this is done well by rendering the individual birds roughly rather going into infinitesimal detail.
Secondly note how graceless the two people on the floor are. They are desperately snatching at the fallen pigeons before they regain consciousness and perhaps fly away again. I love the immediacy and the hurried strained nature of their poses. I think the urgency the act requires is shown wonderfully.
Overall this painting is an excellent representation of rural life in the late 19th Century. Millet was excellent at this, as can be seen in the Gleaners, above, and will perhaps be explored in further posts. I hope this painting has shed some light in our own unfortunate situation. We should count our blessings that while we are isolated, nobody is waking us with a lamp and bashing us about the head.
I think of the reviews I have read, the Guardian (shock, horror) summarises this film most appositely:
Left for dead on the red planet following a scientifically anomalous but narratively necessary windstorm, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon, giving Cast Away-era Tom Hanks a run for his money) must hunker down for the long haul, knowing that any rescue mission is years away. Luckily, he is quite literally “the best botanist on the planet”, and after declaring that he’ll have to “science the shit” out of his Robinson Crusoe situation, he discovers that it is indeed possible to grow potatoes in his own poo. Guardian
In this strange and wonderful isolation time Netflix is our best friend. It pays to watch out for those special movies which come on every now and then in the deluge of vulgarity that Netflix spews out weekly. If you’ve managed to avoid such trite crass as Love is Blind (mocked here wonderfully by two discerning Drag Queens), The Martian offers a serious introspective into true isolation. If you thought the lockdown was bad, imagine not having access to shower facilities for 18 months.
For all of Scott’s visual prowess and Damon’s human centre, the unsung hero might be screenwriter Drew Goddard, lacing the storytelling with wit, energy and an approach to the science that is graspable without being over-simplistic. He also solves the book’s interior-monologue problem. Empire
The aspect of this film which most impressed me was that in spite of essentially being about one person on a deserted planet surviving for roughly one year and seven months, Ridley Scott kept it interesting and engaging throughout. This is no mean feat. Of course, Matt Damon being the star he is helped a great deal. The internal tribulations of the Director of Nasa (Jeff Daniels – Dumb and Dumber), as pitted against the desires of the crew who left Watney behind (lead by Jessica Chastain – IT Chapter 2) make for scintillating viewing. Another actor who knocked it out of the galactic park for me was Donald Glover (Community, writer and singer of This is America). Watch out for his nervous disposition providing a marvellous plot twist when you least expect it.
Matthew has asked me to make a special mention of a Lord of the Rings joke, which is not to be missed. A secret meeting, which decided the fate of Watney was called Project Elrond. Sean Bean, in Lord of the Rings, was appointed to look after the One Ring by Elrond before dying (shock, horror). Sean Bean plays Mitch Henderson, Hermes flight Director in The Martian. To those who, like me, do not find this funny in the slightest, here are some words from Matthew:
This is a direct nod to Lord of the Rings, and is funny because this meeting’s nomenclature is decided by the very actor who dies quite tragically in the former film. Boyo
Also, I would like to draw your attention to Nick Mohammed who plays Tim Grimes in the Martian. See him in the below video having his bottom roundly kicked by two other discerning Drag Queens:
Overall, the Martian is an excellent, high concept, high budget experience. This is one of the few films I have watched all the way through without pausing or skipping. This is high praise indeed from someone as impatient as I am. See the trailer below and catch it on Netflix before they take it down in favour of another mind numbing dating show. Whatever will they desecrate next?
A scholarly look through the Metaphysics section of one’s library might not be the most prescient aspect of this wonderful painting, but I urge you to bear with me while I make up my mind on why I’ve chosen the above as a title to this post. Carl Spitzweg was a German poet and painter. This work was completed circa 1850, which you’ll know is my favourite period in art. This painting offers us a humour introspective into 19th Century scholarly Europe, let’s look at it in some more detail.
The painting is representative of the introspective and conservative mood in Europe during the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the revolutions of 1848, but at the same time pokes fun at those attitudes by embodying them in the fusty old scholar unconcerned with the affairs of the mundane world. Wikipedia
In terms of context, this was painted two years after the 1848 European Revolutions, which “series of republican revolts against European monarchies, beginning in Sicily, and spreading to France, Germany, Italy, and the Austrian Empire. They all ended in failure and repression, and were followed by widespread disillusionment among liberals.” Britannica. (Apologies for the referencing, one can take the boy out of Warwick University…) So we can see this painting in its historical context was perhaps poking fun at this scholar for attempting to find solace and enlightenment in a dimly lit, untidy library. This is further hinted at by the faded globe in the left hand corner of the painting. The idea that the globe is shoved in a corner of the room, unseen and seemingly covered in dust shows our scholar had little interest in world events.
Looking at the detail of the painting, notice the central shaft of light showing us the focal point is indeed our scholar. I love a spotlight. At the risk of sounding self-referential, the use of light is rather reminiscent of the Pieter de Hooch paintings at the Prinsenhof gallery at Delft. Two further observations: firstly, observe how closely our scholar is peering at his current tome. Now look at how he is holding another in his free hand and a third in between his legs! I love this humorous criticism of our scholar. Finally, observe at how to gold spines of the books shine in the light. This I suppose highlights the high quality of the books from which our scholar is learning.
Overall I think this is a delightful painting which highlights the dangers of ignoring your global context. This painting says to me that there is importance in balancing one’s intellectual pursuits with awareness and contribution to more global issues. Indeed this insular insight into scholarly life reflects on all of us. I think it is a lovely painting and I hope it has brightened your day somewhat.
With isolation comes reflection. It is perhaps a credit to my elevated state of happiness in recent months that I have not composed poetry as prolifically as before. But here is a poem for you which I composed while at a Todd Rundgren concert last year, when I was not quite as enthused by the situation in which I found myself.
I can hear your chortles from here. Indeed this was a partially traumatic evening, but this father’s geriatric nipples did not distract from what was an extra ordinary concert. Todd Rundgren is one of my musical heroes. He’s done it all and done it well. He has worked with some of my favourite artists (Sparks, XTC, Meatloaf (to a lesser extent a favourite)) and produced some truly stunning albums himself. Todd Rundgren’s Utopia is in my top three albums ever at present. I remember being so astonished by it in first listening that I slumped off my bed (I was living in Coventry at the time) and stared into my speakers agog. This album is a regular feature on long car journeys.
There is an aspect of this which I have not mentioned; my lovely friend Emily with whom I saw this concert. She has been a dear friend to me for many years and I miss periodically visiting her in London and being graced by her singular charm and her unique take on life. While waiting for her at Euston, I wrote a poem about the comings and goings of London Ladies. Do enjoy it below:
I hope these two short poems have brought some joy into your day. They certainly have done so for me. And this is my blog, after all.