Legend tells that when I was a tot, my mother placed a slice of onion and a piece of candy side by side on my highchair. I reached for the onion and ate it every time, candy be damned. (The bright beginnings of masochism.) But today I don’t have to choose. Renoir paints these tear prone alliums like luminous cotton-candy meringues. Onion candy.
This man could make anything breathtaking. Though he usually picked lovely subjects, innocents. Smooth-skinned children and freckle-free women washed in pink serenity. The layering of beautiful style on beautiful subjects curiously turns me away. Sweetness too saturated. The too painful re-telling of the monumental beauty myth.
For being yellow onions, there is a paucity of that color. Instead, pink, cerise, and salmon rule highlights of green and yellow. The background, in strong diagonal strokes, rains down patches of green and blue. A storm, tossing bulbs about. The onion tops wave like flags in a gale. The curve of the table forcefully pushes out the perimeter of the painting and the whitecap napkin catches onions and garlic in a blue ribbon net.
Renoir plays cruelly with us here. Making us desire these blushing onions, this Venus candy. Knowing full well the bitter wince if we bite. Tears will flow. Some will burn. Finally he tells us the truth about beauty. So fearsome, so lovely and so deeply desired. It will bring us to tears.
And you can buy it in the Kimbell gift shop to hang in your kitchen.
I got happy this weekend. Which is quite a feat for a gal prone to existential crises erupting every hour, on the hour. Like Old Faithful. Shop at the mall, existential crisis. Clean a corner of the garage, existential crisis. Devour all that chinese take out. You guessed it, existential crisis. Go ahead, set your watch by me.
But not this weekend. A happy velocity overtook me. Stopped the ticking annoying my pocket. And all by chance. . . I didn’t know about it, didn’t plan it. Had no idea it was coming.
Like this painting. The colors fly across the canvas with laughing velocity. The colors, so immediate, overlapping, joyriding. You feel their delight in your body. A wave of color splashing onto your skin. Giddy.
This is light in all its Technicolor, charging towards us. Busting through the little chains of worry that snap the universal pocket watch to our belt loop. It’s rainbow-split light that ball bounces through our remote souls. Smashing that sulky radar — its constant pinging and greenglowing anxiety graphing.
Spin me around, you Hallelujah color. I’m coming with you.
Soundtrack (excuse the mustache) Bob Schneider, Let the light in
This jewel-like piece comes to us from a Turkish artist working in Istanbul. Batibeki, a women herself, stages these ladies like puzzle pieces in interior poses. En masse, their forms join to create a graphic harem, a feminine “one.” Around them roam lions or possibly cougars. They are in danger and unaware, or the animal’s power symbolizes their own power, in complete control. Could they be “on the prowl?”
A branch bisects the field of the canvas or perhaps a crack of some sort. The power of their collective beauty splitting the fabric of a culture or growing into it.
The group, preoccupied with beauty, wears elegant beaded dresses. One lady applies makeup. Some are reading. But the velvetblack hair captures our full attention. The hair with a mind of its own, seems unconcerned with the poses of the women. Defying gravity and convention. The punctuation-like hair styles voice the feminine spirit.
An ocean blue background unifies the ladies and their bold black tresses. The color blue in European tradition often signifies the divine (the color of the Virgin Mary). However in Mediterranean cultures, blue wields protective power as a shield from evil spirits. Everywhere you go in Turkey and other middle eastern countries, you see evil eye amulets worn (like crosses in the West) as an omen to ward off evil.
Do these women need protecting or are you their prey?
So how about a racy photo for your Valentine? This lovely lady certainly agrees. However the Inquisition did not, and confiscated this pair of peek-a-boo paintings. Which do you think the church disapproved of? Or approved of so much that they decided to snatch them? To quote Monty Python, “no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, ” and naughty Goya had to answer to Senor Inquisitor in 1814.
The reclining naked lady has a glorious history in art but not so much in Spain (Velasquez painted Venus 150 years prior, but only a back view). The “odalisque” (in art speak) has been painted since antiquity, but normally in the context mythological stories or biblical allegory. Goya tried to pass this off as Venus and thus sanitize it for the Inquisition, but no one was fooled. Why would you paint a fully clothed Venus? Nah. . .This was Godoy’s (Spain’s power broker at the time) mistress giving us a “come hither” look — definitely not in the tradition of spiritual purity. These hang on the same wall at the Prado which gives you chance to study them side by side, although the clothed one probably hung over the nude one in Godoy’s palace.
No surprise, Goya spent much more time on the nude lover. Her body transects the plane of the canvas on an almost perfect diagonal giving a sense of motion to the relaxed figure. Which also puts the pelvis front and center. Hmm… certainly not Venus here, lads. And I love the lacey pillowcases, don’t you? Is it just me or is she sucking in her tummy?
Not to be missed in Madrid, the Thyssen Museum. This was my first real live Rothko and I fell for it, hard. Ambling around the bottom floor galleries, I felt very lost trying to interpret modern art and suddenly, “Heelllooo big guy.” Tall, dark and green, it swept me off my feet. A mesmerizing pool of color. Go ahead. . . stick your toe in the water and swirl it around a bit (the green square is about the size of a plastic kiddie pool). And I’ll tell you how to love Rothko.
First of all, you must ask your mind to step back. This painting is like an “Ohm” in color. A portal into yourself (going where no man has gone before) and if you listen to your brain flip-flopping “What is this. . I can’t understand it . .What is he doing here?” You’ve totally missed it. Don’t try to “figure it out” which is a relief actually. Noggin, take the bench, heart you’re up.
You are experiencing yourself and the color together. What if you become the canvas, feeling the green and purple wash over you and all the emotions that happen. Tip into the green and splash down into it. Let your soul fingers touch the edges where the purpley maroon meet the green shoreline. Feel all the layers of color lap up against you.
Now what do you see? Your grandmother’s green sweater and the smell of her perfume, the softness of your son’s favorite blankie, your lover’s eyes. For me green = life and this makes me desperately want to be “alive.” Rothko invites you on an inner journey. The color, your guide; a baptism in jade. Skinny dipping in a Rothko.
What happened when I entered the Monet room at the MOMA? I can tell you I wasn’t expecting the vistas of water and light that engulfed me and left me gasping in slight pain. These mammoth waterlily canvases are 14 ft long – each one. Six feet high. The three of them are side by side by side along one long wall – – that’s 42 feet. You are literally swimming around in this canvaspool of color. If I was a carp or frog, I’d die and come here, to Monet heaven.
This one is my favorite. I’m captured by the sapphire blue, deep violet-purple and the little points of red. I had a little print of this one in my college dorm room. It got me through alot of teen angst. How was I to know that it was so extraordinarily large? This little poster drop of peace was in reality, a tremendous baptismal of beauty. What else am I missing in life. . .what else is there to discover?
Most of Monet’s paintings are small because he painted al fresco and needed to be mobile, but these were painted at a special studio he designed at Giverny. Monet originally wanted these to be displayed on curved walls, obscuring the visual boundaries to capture the essence of one of the hardest things to paint – water.
Here’s the shady area of the pond. The cotton candy pink is fluffity deliciousness! Unfortunately though, the shade didn’t stop there; Monet developed cataracts as he aged. In the face of that harsh reality we call “life,” we still have the chance to create a piece of heaven.