Sunday, January 30, 2011

Every time I visit the Museum of Fine Arts as well as every day I worked there I would make a daily pilgrimage to a simple, beautiful, deeply personal little painting "The Artist in his Studio" by Rembrandt. It is special to me because I was there in that very studio during a visit to Holland in 2008. I went to Holland as a birthday present to myself during tulip season (gorgeous!), I developed a craving for raw herring dipped in onion with a big mug of beer, learned that the Dutch make the best soups ever…especially pea soup which is so thick you can stand a spoon in it. During the last few days of the trip our group was taking a canal tour of Amsterdam (fabulous!) at the end of which we were let off by the diamond factory for a scheduled tour but I learned that Rembrandt's house was only a block away…that's better than diamonds for me. I'd heard about a show of botanical paintings by Maria Sybilla Merian which turned out to be mind-blowing! She watercolor paintings on vellum in the 1600's but they were so bright and clear they could have been done yesterday! She is one of the rare, deeply gifted women who break through in a time dominated by men. But then again Holland was/is a very progressive place and Maria was held in high esteem given opportunities as an artist that were unheard of, she got to travel to places women rarely went so she could study then paint the flora and fauna. That exhibit was in a modern looking part of Rembrandt's house, so I figured maybe it was the "site" where Rembrandt's house once stood, maybe they had built over his place. Not so, after a bit more exploring I ended up in Rembrandt's very home!!! Saw where he slept, ate his meals, did his etchings. I was the first person in the door that day so had the place to myself for a little bit. I saw an impossibly tiny, twisted staircase to the upper floor the guard hadn't even made it up there yet and there I was in HIS studio, with his brushes, palettes, a partially prepared canvas on his easel…I felt faint. The light was dim because the shutters were still closed. Moments later the guard walked in, we exchanged good mornings as I was standing in the middle of the room with my hand over my heart, gently tapping, trying to breathe. Once the guard opened the window and saw me better she rushed over rapidly speaking in Dutch something about "was I ok?" It dawned on me the I might have looked like I was having a heart attack, she kept trying to get me to sit down, her hand was on the walkie talkie when another person walked in who, thankfully, spoke English and Dutch. Maybe I also looked pale, after all it's no small thing to be standing in Rembrandt's studio with his brushes and all he touched so close! This new person translated for me that I was fine, completely fine, but overwhelmed to be in the Master's Studio. The guard relaxed and I got over being stunned then took a great deal of time to look at each of this things…oh how I wanted to touch them! My other favorite room was the one that housed his collections of bones, sticks, flotsam and jetsam of all kinds…in that way we are similar. The studio in this painting is the very one I stood in and it was an immense thrill to be there in the spot where he stood. Plus with all the grand paintings he did this one is small and simple, clearly a deeply personal painting for him to give us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You are not forgotten...

The beautiful new wing of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is full of surprises and work that has never been on display before because there wasn't room. One of the biggest surprises, one I've returned to many times is the exquisite room of cross stitch pieces done all around the 1700's in Boston and surrounding areas by 12 year old girls. It's an amazing room that guarantees goosebumps when you begin to think how seldom women, let alone young girls from that era get represented. These fragile pieces are gorgeous, gentle works and a way for these girls to learn their letters. The one pictured here is a particular favorite of mine and one I make a point of seeing often, it's by Martha Decoster (Decoster or Decosta is Portuguese for "the coast"). She lived in the North End of Boston, my old neighborhood and even though her name conjures up images of the Sea her father was "a humble bricklayer". Clearly he was a busy man as Boston is smothered in brick!
I cannot make out all Martha has written at the top of her piece but the bottom writing is clear and says: "Martha Decoster is my name New England is my nation Boston is my dwelling place and Christ is my salvation when I am dead and lied in grave and all my bones are rotten if this you see remember me and never let me be forgotten." Martha stitched this piece in 1749, 262 years later Martha you bring tears to my eyes and a chill to think a 12 year old girl could write this and so beautifully. You are not forgotten...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More palettes!

It's snicing out there (snow + ice) and it's not nice! I hate winter and don't go out unless I absolutely have to so I'm doing my spring cleaning early + I just painted my studio floor and can't go there for about another day. This morning I cleaned out a closet that is small yet somehow I stuffed a shocking amount of junk in it and to my great joy found these 3 palettes!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Accidental Abstraction...

I will let the images speak for themselves. These are photos of my palettes that I began saving quite some time ago and hesitate to admit it but I often like them more than my paintings! I'm a lousy abstract painter (topic for another post) but when it happens accidentally it's magic. Enjoy!

This is my current "in studio" palette, freshly scraped, looks very Spring like!

my disposable palette which I won't save, used this for my alkyds.

This is an interesting's double sided and this is side one, think I'm going to frame it.

...and this is the other side, where I actually mixed the paint.

Geesh I just love this one...

this next palette is the first one I saved and I'd been painting a lot of can kind of tell from the colors.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The most mysterious painting...

El Perro by Goya for me is one of the most mysterious paintings in the world. During a whirlwind trip through the amazing Prado last year it stopped and held me in its trance. El Perro is one of the few paintings that comes to mind often as it did recently. I can see it vividly in my mind with fresh wonder. No one can truly decipher what's going on in an artist's mind, lots of people have incredible and melodramatic theories about what the painting means but they can never know for sure. Problem is that most glom onto one of the many interpretations and don't form their own. Lots of meanings have to do with a lonely and abused dog, why so grim! What sadness lies deep in people that makes them come up with that, perhaps it's true but they (and I) don't know. My interpretation is that the lighter shadow on the wall is the dog's owner who is coming home and the dog hears his steps and woke from a nap, with the darker form along the bottom being a late afternoon shadow. It does seem to be afternoon light overall. There could be humor in the piece as well with the dark shape along the bottom being the form of a plush bed which the dog has been sleeping on (and shouldn't be!), and startled at the sound of it's owner coming in. Or perhaps the dog doesn't recognize the steps hence the slightly startled look of "who's that". It is most interesting that Goya painted it on the walls of his house so maybe it's a shadow painting of his dog. It would be helpful to know what wall and where in the house it was, there is some dispute as to whether or not it was painted on the wall of the second floor or not since they aren't sure it the house even had a second floor. Perhaps Goya painted it to be his watchdog, alert to intruders, and for all who like to go to darker meaning perhaps the shadow is death or more political strife and Goya's faithful friend is guarding against it.

The painting is mesmerizing and frankly far more mysterious to me than the other most "mysterious" painting the Mona Lisa. No image required because I'm sure it pops up in everyone's mind the instant you hear the title. A bunch of years ago I got to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I was shocked at how small it really is. It's lovely but to be honest if it didn't come with centuries of hype and was just hanging on the wall with all the other paintings I might not spend much time with it. What I found much more compelling than the Mona Lisa was all the people filing in to pay homage to get some cheesey photo of themself in front of it or everyone looking at it through their cameras or cell phones but no one NO ONE actually really, deeply looking at it. In any case you wouldn't have much time to spend looking at it close up and carefully as there are huge lines of people that are filed through by guards who must absolutely hate having to be there shuffling people through. I feel for them. Mona Lisa has become a travel trophy which seems to be a monumental tragedy for such a simple painting. What also strikes me about the painting is to ponder how many people have seen that painting, how many pairs of eyes have looked at her vs. how many have looked at El Perro? I'll bet you if I went out on the street and did an informal poll of thousands of people and asked them "what is the most famous painting in the world" to a person, 100% they would say the Mona Lisa. The other astonishing thing when you are in the same room as the Mona Lisa is that the room is full of gigantic paintings but no one seems to bother looking at them! Just crazy.

It is interesting to note that those are the thoughts that come up when I think of the Mona Lisa but not the painting itself. However, when I wonder about something mysterious El Perro -the whole painting- comes to mind.