15 July 2011

Top Five Friday: On Vacation

I am out of town this weekend and unplugged ~ ahh bliss!  Will pick this up next week.

Have a great weekend!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

11 July 2011

The Art of Poetry and the Poetry of Art

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. 
~ Pablo Picasso

Many moons ago, I took an art class.  I was around twelve years old and I loved art.  The idea of painting filled me with excitement.  Eager to express the poetry inside me, I paid rapt attention to the teacher’s instructions.  Alas, the class was teaching portraiture and depth and dimension has never been my strong suit.  My people did not look anything like a real person.

An art teacher worth her weight in gold would have taken one look at my work and would have noticed my fascination with colour and symbolism.  Perhaps she would have encourage me to try my hand at capturing the essence of flowers or landscapes.  Even abstract expression.

Maybe my teacher was conditionally loved as child.  Maybe her art mentor scoffed at her paintings.  I am not sure what she expected from a twelve year old girl ~ how many prodigy Picassos or Pugins are out there?!  Whatever the reason, my efforts were condescendingly mocked.
That was the last art class I took.  Discouraged, the brushes stiffened in their jars, the canvases languished in a forgotten corner and the paint shriveled up.  I had no talent for painting portraits.

But who said portraits are the only thing worth painting?

It has only been recently that I have discovered my talent for word painting.  But I still did not connect that to art.  Until I read a chapter in Susan Goldstein Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy.  In chapter X, Susan encourages her readers [and poetry students] to embrace art and poetry wherever you may find it and to find poetry prompts in unlikely places.  One of these prompts involved creating an “I am . . .” collage.  She says:

Cut out colors, pictures and words that help define you. . . .Glue it onto cardboard or into your journal in a minicollage. [1]

Why, I can do that kind of art!  Art is about expressing some truth or feeling or thought without words.  Since this is a poetry exercise, you are encouraged to use words if they point to some aspect of who you are, but it is not required.  I love words, so I used throughout my collage to express aspects of my personality.   Susan suggests using cardboard or paper, but I loved the idea that this was a form of art, so instead, I went to my local Michael’s and bought a canvas.

In the course of creating my collage, I found that not only was my poetic creativity exercised, the ghost of a failed art class was exorcised. 

What would your “I am . . .” collage look like?  A bit of coloured glass, a blue bird’s feather, the top of a baby acorn?  Play around with different objects and materials.  Maybe you’ll release some ghosts of your own and discover the artist within.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

[1] page 141, Poemcrazy, Susan G. Wooldridge, Three Rivers Press, 1996

08 July 2011

Top Five Friday: Evelyn de Morgan

Art is eternal, but life is short. . . .I will make up for it now.  I have not a moment to lose.
~ Evelyn de Morgan

Although not a member of the Pre Raphaelites, Evelyn de Morgan was nonetheless heavily influenced by their aesthetic philosophy.  Her uncle and early mentor of her work, was Roddam Spencer Stanhope, and Edward Burne-Jones, was a close friend and also encouraged her talent.  Both men were friends with the founders of the Brotherhood and were themselves inspired by their work.

Her attention to detail was noted by friends such as Sir William Blake Richmond and another friend and artist, George Frederick Watts called her the "first woman artist of the day ~ if not of all time."  Born in 1855, Evelyn, after much persuasion of her upper class parents, enrolled in the Slade School of Art.  She would go on to be a founding exhibitor of the Grosvenor Gallery. [1]  For more on her life, visit the De Morgan Foundation, located in London and responsible for the housing and care of the majority of the De Morgan Collection.

Hero Holding the Beacon for Leander (1885) De Morgan Centre, London
This is by far my favorite of de Morgan's paintings.  There is something darkly beautiful about a raging sea and a stormy night.  Especially when you are waiting for your lover to swim to your side.  In Greek legend, Hero was a priestess of Venus and Leander her mortal lover.  The detail and mastery shown here is incredible: I feel the icy spray on my feet, my arm is stiff with cold, but I cannot relax my vigil. Leander is counting on the light to lead the way.  I am no longer looking at a painting ~ I have become part of it.

Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund (1905) De Morgan Centre, London
Rosamund was the mistress of King Henry II.  It is said that he built her a house constructed in a maze so that his wife, Queen Eleanor, could not find her.  Legend says that the Queen used a thread to find her way and offered Rosamund the choice of stabbing or poison.  In paintings of the same subject , the Pre Raphaelites shows the mistress as fair and innocent and the wronged wife as evil.  It is less noticeable in de Morgan's depiction, but it is there in the black smoke trailing behind Eleanor, attended by what appears to be flying serpents. I love the detail and the brilliant colouring of the women's clothing.

Luna (1885) De Morgan Centre, London
Bound by the earth's gravitational pull, yet not of the earth, the moon seems to be half awake, half asleep.  de Morgan had this to say about her personification:

Art thou pale for weariness
    of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless... [2]

Here, the soft, misty colours, the contrast between dark and light, elicit a feeling of both mystery, melancholy, and romance.


The Love Potion (1903)
The position and placement of the model in the middle foreground of the canvas, the brilliant colours, the attention to detail in the rug and draperies, and the subject herself, her clothes reminiscent of ancient Greece or Rome, all point to the heavy influence of the Brotherhood.  Unfortunately, I could not find where the original painting is now.

Hope in the Prison of Despair (1887)
Although I adore the play of light and shadow in this painting, I was more drawn to the title of it.  When I first read it, I thought what an interesting thought to have Hope locked up in Despair's chains!  But then I looked that the painting again.  Hope isn't locked up in Despair's prison ~ it is Despair, dressed in black, bent over and hiding her face, who is chained by her own futility.  Hope has entered the cell to set Despair free, bearing a candle to light the way. 

Reading the painting further, we see a broken chain, which makes Despair's pose more poignant: even free of her chains, she cannot stand upright or look Hope in the face, illustrating that Despair's prison is not an external one at all, but inside of her.

As with The Love Potion, my search for the whereabouts of the original painting came up empty, so perhaps they are privately owned. 

What do you think of Evelyn de Morgan's art?  How close to the Pre Raphaelite ideal did she come?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Notes: 1, 2:  from Elise Lawton Smith's Evelyn Pickering de Morgan and the Allegorical Body, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, May 2002.

01 July 2011

Top Five Friday: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Why should I paint dead fish, onions and beer glasses? 
Girls are so much prettier. 
~ Marie Laurencin

Happy Top Five Friday! Today we take a look at Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the founder [along with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais] of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  Rossetti was not only a prolific painter, but a poet as well, writing some and is known as much for his romantic entanglements with his two major muses: Elizabeth Siddal and Jane Morris [wife of William Morris] as his art.

If you want to learn more about Rossetti, I suggest two sites: The Rossetti Archive and The Victorian Web.   And now to the paintings.  It was very difficult to whittle the list down to five!

Venus Verticordia (1864-68) Russell Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth
Knowing my penchant for strong colouring and contrasts, it is not difficult to see why I picked Venus as one of the top five.  The beautiful realism of the Pre-Raphaelites’ technique is one of the main draws for me, as well as the medieval and romantic subject matter.  The model here was actually two women: Fanny Cornworth and later on, Alexa Wilding.

Proserpine (1874) Tate Gallery, London
Proserpine [or Persephone in Greek mythology], is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter ~ the goddess of harvest.  In the myth, she is kidnapped by the love-stricken Hades to the underworld.  Demeter searches in vain for her daughter and during her search, causes a long drought to fall on the people.  Zeus the orders Hades to release Proserpine.  In an uncanny resemblance to Genesis’ Eve, Hades tricks her into eating forbidden fruit ~ in this case, pomegranate seeds, because it is said that whomever eats or drinks anything while in the Underworld must remain there for all eternity.  In some versions, Proserpine eats four to six seeds, the number of dry months when nothing grows and she must return to the Underworld.

Again, rich hues and realism make this an easy choice.  Jane Morris is the muse here and Rossetti penned a sonnet of longing to go with the painting:

Dire fruit, which, tasted once, must thrall me here.
Afar those skies from this Tartarean grey   

The irony here is that Jane Morris was trapped in an unhappy marriage to William Morris and both she and Rossetti were tasting the forbidden fruit of an adulterous affair.

Il Ramoscello (1865) Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University
I have not been able to find much about this painting but the model appears to be Rossetti’s first muse, Elizabeth Siddal.  They married in 1860 and she died sometime in 1862 after an apparent overdose of laudanum. 

I love the colour and detail of her dress and the coppery sheen of her hair ~ a feature Elizabeth was known for.

Lady Lilith (1868) Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington
From the Victorian Web:

The model was neither Jane nor Elizabeth, but a third Rossetti muse, Fanny Cornforth. However, in this rendition, the face is that of Alexa Wilding.  Lilith may be a femme fatale, but the colouring and sensuality depicted is beautiful and showcases Rossetti’s obsession with the Pre-Raphaelite ideal woman with long, flowing hair.

Astarte Syriaca (1877) Manchester City Art Gallery
Rossetti depicts Jane Morris here as a strong and sensual Venus, with again, the long, flowing hair.  There is an air of mystery and darkness, and one can almost feel the intense longing of painter and muse for each other.

What strikes you about these paintings?  What do they say to you?  Any other Rossetti favorites and why?

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

*Update 10/10/11: Donald Halliday, a tour guide from the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth read my post and wrote to let me know that the model for Venus Verticordia was not Jane Morris as I thought, but Fanny Cornforth and Alexa Wilding.  The correction has been made.

His note:
"The original model was in Rossetti’s own words ‘”A very large young woman, almost a giantess, I noticed in the street”. Later Rossetti modified the features for that of two of his favourite models. The first was Fanny Cornforth; then later – Alexa Wilding
Rossetti discovered Alexa (Alice) Wilding by chance when he was walking to the Arundel Club one day in the spring of 1865. Seeing her walking next to him, he was struck with her beauty and asked her on the spot to sit for him as a model. She said she would do it if her mother consented. Shortly afterwards, she wrote that her mother agreed. They made an appointment but, much to Rossetti’s disappointment, she did not keep it.
Some few months later he saw her again by chance in the street, stopped her, and offered her generous terms if she would sit for him. She agreed and gave up her dressmaking job. Rossetti retained her at a pound per week to sit for him whenever he asked.
Wilding made such a good model for Rossetti’s later work he said “she has a lovely face, beautifully moulded in every feature, full of quiet, soft, almost mystical repose. She sat like the Sphinx waiting to be questioned with a vague reply in return”
Wilding became one of Rossetti’s favourite models and sat for some of his most famous pictures, including Mona Vanna and The Blessed Damozel. Besides the studies he made for such major oil works, Rossetti executed at least seven separate drawings of her between 1866 and 1873."

Many thanks to Daniel for letting me [and you!] know.  I do as much research as I can, but I don't always catch everything, so I love it when readers let me when something's amiss. ~ MD