Haystacks for the gold

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Today I made a collection of oh-so-delightful chubby haystacks.

In Monet’s vision, the haystack stands to the side, giving full deference to the atmosphere. And the sunset in turn, halos the hay in gold. We watch light’s magic, glorifying, coloring and blanching things. And though the colors sizzle, the haystack casts a prosperous cool shadow, holding down the foreground with calm aplomb.  Prepared.

Roy Lichtenstein,  Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Haystack pops front and center in Lichtenstein’s study of pattern creating form.  A braille stack redux.  I want to reach out and touch the dots, to push them together so they don’t hurt my eyeballs, which constantly try to connect and reconnect them. I give up and decide to study their shape and configuration. Like a nervous-tic they continue to addle my eyes, needling my subconscious. Scatterbrained haystack please stand still, please.

Will Klemm, October, 8x8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Will Klemm, October, 8×8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Ahhh, now my favorite, Will Klemm’s hay bale. Here we return to an atmospheric piece like Monet’s. And though reposed in stillness, there’s a tremendous amount of emotion rolling around. I want to give this hay bale a big squish hug and tell it everything’s going to be all right. But maybe it’s not lonely. A buddha bale that has reached peace, stopped rolling. With compassion it listens to my tales of woe. The shadow stretches impossibly long from a bright light source at an extremely low angle.  Is it physically possible? And then you realize he’s painting some hidden soul-field in your mind.

Or today your noggin (like mine) is the Lichtenstein.


Pierre Bonnard, Woman with a Dog, 1891. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Pierre Bonnard, Woman with a Dog, 1891. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Look dear, the dog’s name is Bonnard. What a darling puppy! Is it a poodle?

(If paintings could speak. . .)

No, no that’s the artist’s name. French, impressionist, part of the Nabis group. . .

And don’t you love her gingham dress. What a cheery polka dot scarf.

Yes the dress is interesting for its sheer flatness, the way it starts a dialog of pattern that circles around the painting. . .

And her sister’s curly hair. Lord, I’ve spent hours ironing my sister’s kinky hair to get it straight. Back before they had flat irons that is. We actually used an iron.

Mmmhmm. See how her curly hair pulls out the whorl of the dog’s coat, similar colors even, and then talks to the shaggy flowers and rattan chair at the left. Yellow playing at the perimeter of the painting.

And the men, just setting there like bumps on a log, watching while the women help the poor puppy, probably has something in its paw. Well, that’s just like a man.

Wait… the contrast of yellows on blue, the patterns and the shifting perspective, the delightful textures, the floating narrative. . .

Maybe I can buy a card for my niece for her birthday, do you think they have this puppy on a card? She loves dogs.

Probably in the gift shop, next to the needless mousepads.

Oh Patty, just look over there, at that wretched yellow Gauguin! It is Gauguin isn’t ? I so dislike him.

I like the dog too. Probably a terrier. . .

Wanna bet?

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899. Pastel on tracing paper, with strip added at bottom, laid down on cardboard. 21 1/4 x 24 3/4 in. (55. 8 x 64.8 cm). Purchased 1950. © National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917). Racehorses, ca. 1895-1899.
© National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Time for sipping mint juleps. Ladies, break out that high-and-mighty hat. Gentlemen, pony up the bucks. The Kentucky Derby has pulled to within a length.

Here, we feel all the elegance of the event, tensing with the nervous energy of the contenders. Taste the transient moodiness. Even the blades of grass stand on tiptoe.

The horse in golden silks steps out of frame, gives you the sense you are right there, anticipating more action. The wild one in the background throws his head, his orange-silked jockey straining to steady. Like a chorus line, the horses’ legs prance up the field of the canvas, the real star of this show.  Degas places the horses’ bodies in a diagonal construction from the lower left of the canvas to the upper right, building a mounting tension.

From the usual chestnut field, I spot a gray. My pic for the 2012 Derby, Hansen (technically known as a gray, but white to me.) One of only 8% of thoroughbreds with this coloration who trace their lineage back to one horse, their thin gray line saved from extinction by The Tetrarch.

A white horse – think Apocalypse, Unicorns, knight-in-shining armor, hi-ho-Silver-and-away. The extraordinary, the mystical.  A hooved Justice, snorting vengeance.  Against the gates of a rigid, rusted status quo, the pale and rider pull away down the stretch. And we believe, against all odds, anything is possible.

Will Hansen take the roses, like Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Gato del Sol (1982), Determine (1954) and his son Decidedly (1962)?  I’ll take that bet.

Whitey Tighties

The Bather Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906) MOMA, New York  

The Bather Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906) MOMA, New York

Yesterday we observed a swimmer in the sea, gliding through currents of womby metaphysics.  Today, let’s take a look at a swimmer preparing to enter the water. You recall the watery pallet from Westerik’s piece and notice that Cezanne’s is quite similar.  Grey blues, slight green, bits of brown. I trace the pinks that highlight the vertical body of the bather. Now follow the pinks that create a horizontal swath of land behind him. These two masses balance each other; the similar colors join.  The man, rooted solidly to land. But he’s about to change that.

The bather’s toes swirl the water and you feel his contemplative mood.  This is the moment right before the splash. Heel on land. Toes tickle water. Clothes off. There is a familiar vulnerability and a sense of time suspended. And suddenly,you think you really want him to get on with it, because frankly, his vulnerability is making you a little uncomfortable.

The color blocking technique Cezanne pioneered is apparant, but he transitions his usual warm pallet to cool the effect here.  Cool and contemplative. The preparation before the ritual cleansing.  Thinking back over the day, hmmm. . . .that thing you banished to the back burner springs to mind, barrels to the front. Argh. . . You ponder for a moment to give it voice, your toes swish the water, restless.  Relaxing your muscles, flexing your joints. Preparing to forget.

A slight pause before you dive. The caught breath before the plunge.

(and the guy at the YMCA really did say that. . . he did the shoulder popping thing too)