Bleu et rose. Picasso

There’s no need to describe Pablo Picasso—everyone knows about him, and most of us have come across one or more of his works in an exhibition or museum, since he was extremely prolific.
For me, most enchanting were his early works, the Blue and Rose periods, which visitors to Paris have the chance to admire at the Musée d’Orsay. The exhibition is a collaboration between the museum and the Musée National Picasso, and has gathered major works that focus on the period from 1900 to 1906.

 

 

Picasso was a fantastic draughtsman, and could produce detailed academic drawings with great ease. In his paintings, however, he expressed his highly personal viewpoint, often distorting body parts, foreshortening limbs or elongating fingers.

 

 

It is difficult to comprehend today, but at the time he was derided  for this by art critics, and floundered in the teeming artistic milieu of Paris, until he was picked up by American art patron Gertrude Stein. Although they did not speak each other’s language, they became friends, and she had a major influence on his career. He painted her portrait, which everyone agreed did not look at all like her, but which eventually became one his most famous portraits. After 1919 he was giving her paintings for free, since he had become so successful that she could no longer afford to buy them!

 

 

Picasso painted prostitutes, blind men, drunks, but also babies and children. He was moved by the notions of family and motherhood. His palette made up of blues gives off an aura of melancholy. He was also inspired by other artists of his time, such as Van Gogh and Gaugin, whose influence can be seen in some of his work.

 

 

It is amazing that these paintings were made when Picasso was only 20 or 21. The blue period lasted until 1904, when hints of pink started creeping into his palette, to evolve into the rose period,  where joyful pinks, reds and  oranges dominated, and his subjects were harlequins and circus people. This lasted for just two years, and ended with the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the first painting of the cubist period.

 

 

It is also astonishing how prolific Picasso was. He left behind tens of thousands of works,  even though, when he was young and broke, he reused canvasses and even burnt drawings for warmth.

 

 

Anyone within reach of Paris should go and see this exhibition—it is just wonderful. I left unsure whether to be greatly inspired or simply throw my pens and brushes in the bin and take up knitting!

 

Dance with Carlos Acosta

In contrast to the depressing news from Athens I have been reporting lately, a magical evening awaited us at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus,  where the star dancer Carlos Acosta and his company performed for one night only.

 

 

At the entrance to the ancient theatre a huge full moon greeted us—during the performance we could see it rising slowly above the stone walls.

 

 

Despite a brisk breeze which meant people were wearing jackets (the side effects of a weather front aptly named “Xenophon”), the stands were packed with an enthusiastic audience.

 

People still trickling in

The performance itself exceeded all expectations. The music was a mixture of contemporary, flamenco, and tribal African, and the repertory included works by the Belgium-based Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Cuban choreographer Marianela Boán and company member Raúl Reinoso. The last piece was accompanied by a medley of old Rolling Stones favorites, such as Little Red Rooster, Lady Jane and Play With Fire.

The 25-member Danza Acosta company is made up of a racially diverse group of young people who combine grace with unbounded energy and exude joie de vivre. They are agile, well-trained young Cubans, many of whom gave up good positions in prominent dance troupes to follow the call of a national hero. Acosta is undoubtedly the star of the show, but he didn’t hog the limelight. Everyone got their chance to shine.

 

 

Acosta was born in a very poor neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, on  June 2, 1973. He was the 11th and last child in his family, and grew up occasionally shoeless, with no toys. He was over-energetic and his father, a truck driver, was worried he’d end up on the street, so he made him audition for the national ballet school, which was state-funded and also provided students with a free lunch. From there he rose to the top, finally joining the Royal Ballet in Britain, where he became an international star. He stayed 17 years, and retired at 43, to form his own company—back in his beloved country, which he’d left but never forgotten.

 

 

We felt privileged to be there on such a beautiful evening, which was a rare reminder of the benefits of living in Greece.

 

 

Parts of the proceeds of the show will be donated to the organisation Coeurs pour Tous Hellas  (Hearts for All), set up in 2015 for Greek children with congenital heart disease, which has so far supported 106 children with the disease.

Awed by the abstract

When artist Zao Wou-Ki left China to come to Paris in 1948, his whole family gathered on the quay in Shanghai to bid him farewell. They were dressed in western clothes, the men in coats and felt hats, the women with Lauren Bacall hairstyles, flat shoes and leather gloves. His wife Lalan was coming with him, but they left behind their son with his grandparents, because they were only planning to stay for two years. By the time he came back to visit his mother, it was 1972 and his beloved father had died four years earlier.

 

 

Zao Wou-Ki had to wait two years to get his passport and visa, and months to get a passage—boats to Europe were rare. He disembarked in Marseilles after thirty six days of a voyage that filled him with boredom. But he was determined—he felt he had to get away from China or he would die.

 

Hommage à Claude Monet

 

Zao had been obsessed with painting since childhood, a pursuit encouraged by his father, a banker. At fourteen, he left home to study at the school of fine art in Hang-Cheou, 300km from home. But he felt stifled by Chinese art, which he thought mired in convention and rules. He wanted to free himself and his creativity. So he ended up in Montparnasse, where he remained. He did, however, travel extensively to New York and Hong Kong.

 

Le vent pousse la mer

 

In Paris, Zao was influenced by major artists of his time, such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Matisse and Cezanne, and developed close relationships with Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miró, Joan Mitchell and Sam Francis, among many others. But he was also inspired by poetry and music. Two of his best friends were poet Henri Michaud and composer Edgar Varèse. His work became increasingly freer, and he produced his marvelous glowing large works.

 

In memory of May

 

It is difficult to reproduce the depth, subtlety of color, and brilliance of these paintings in photographs, especially ones taken on a phone. But this is art to soothe and elevate the soul.

 

 

Across his career, Zao sought to create works that captured ‘the presence of nature’. He had rejected the classical conventions of Chinese calligraphy and landscape painting, but, by 1971, he returned to the brush-and-ink technique in which he was trained in China, with work that reflected its sources in Chinese traditions. Zao explained in a 1962 interview with the French magazine Preuves, ‘Although the influence of Paris is undeniable in all my training as an artist, I also wish to say that I have gradually rediscovered China.’ He added, ‘Paradoxically, perhaps, it is to Paris that I owe this return to my deepest origins.’

 

 

Zao was a member of the Académie des beaux-arts, and was considered to have been one of the most successful Chinese painters during his lifetime. He died in 2013.

 

The temple of the Han

Exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris.

Sometimes there is a happy end

The statistics on the refugee crisis are horrendous. The death rate for migrants attempting to reach Europe has risen even though the number of people trying to make the crossing has fallen. While in 2017, there was one death for every 42 migrants attempting the crossing, for the same period in 2018 the number is one death for every 18. More than 1.600 people have died or gone missing this year.
Meanwhile, there are over 4.000 refugees amassed in the island of Samos, of whom 3.817 are piled up in a facility meant for 648 people. In Lesbos, too, 10.454 migrants, mostly having arrived from the Turkish coast, are packed in the camp of Moria (and this is just in Greece—I didn’t check the numbers for Italy and Spain, where lots of people cross over from Libya.)

However, in a few cases, there can be a happy ending. It is from the Lesbos hotspot that young Christ Wamba has moved to the basketball courts of Aris, a top class team based in Thessaloniki, in the north of Greece. He was introduced to the public as their newest player, to enthusiastic applause, at this season’s opening ceremony. ‘His life could be made into a film,’ said the presenter.

 

The not-quite-18-year-old lived with his family in the Congo until three years ago. Their situation was dire—he often had to go to bed on an empty stomach. He loved basketball, but knew he had to leave home to achieve his dream. At 15, he crossed half of Africa alone, and managed to arrive in Turkey after many adventures. From there, he found himself confined in the Lesbos camp, where he remained for a year and a half. It was there he met social worker Michael Poulimas, member of an NGO looking after unaccompanied children on Lesbos. Michael managed to get him into an apartment with some other youths, and observed his passion for basketball—Christ could seldom be seen without a ball in his hand, and lost no opportunity to play.

Michael helped him make an asylum claim, and in 2017, he was moved to another camp, in Sindos, in northern Greece. There, George Balogiannis, head coach of the local basketball team, noticed his talent and took him on. Christ started practicing for 8 hours per day, in order to improve and take his skills to a new level.

 

Meanwhile, a teammate had helped him post his profile on Athlenda, a worldwide basketball network site known for the discovery of new talent. And the rest, as they say, is history. When Christ applied for a job opening with Aris, a well known northern Greek team, the head coach recognized his unique talent, and he earned his spot on the roster. He started training with the squad a few months ago (the deal was officially announced earlier this week).

A fairytale come true and an inspiration for other kids hoping to attain their dreams. However, one cannot help but wonder how many people with similar talents and ambitions still remain stuck, with little hope for the future.

 

An Antique tomb

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has announced that an unusually large, untouched sarcophagus has been discovered in the Sidi Gaber district of the city of Alexandria. The tomb was uncovered during work on the foundations of a new building and is believed to belong to the Ptolemaic era, more than 2000 years ago.

 

Source: Google

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, one of around twenty cities bearing his name. Alexander the Great succeeded his father on the throne of Macedonia at the age of twenty. He died in Babylon at the age of 33, having in this short time created an empire that stretched from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders. His reign, while being undoubtedly bloody and violent, nevertheless resulted in the spread of Greek culture in the east. This led to a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century AD. It is amazing that people spoke Greek in central and far eastern Anatolia until the 1920s! Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mold of Achilles, and is often ranked amongst the most influential people in history.

 

Source:Google

Alexander’s tomb has never been found, but it is widely believed to be in Alexandria. The reasons for this are multiple:

Ancient sources often mention Alexander’s tomb, all placing it in Alexandria. Amongst the people who are thought to have visited are Julius Caesar, Octavian, Caligula and others, according to ancient texts. There is no definite proof, but there is however a strong probability, given that after his death Alexander’s body remained in Babylon for two years, before starting on the long journey home in order to be buried in Macedonia. It is said that Ptolemy, the governor of Egypt, waylaid the mission and kept the body in Alexandria until at least the 4th century AD. Possibly it was destroyed there during the persecution of Christians. The fact that the royal necropolis was never found could also be due to the ravages of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis, or the later destruction of pagan temples by Christians.

Finally, Alexandria has progressively grown into a thriving modern city of five million inhabitants, making it difficult for archaeologists to conduct digs there.

This new discovery is a rare specimen sculpted out of black granite. It is exceptionally large, measuring 2.65m in length, 1.65m in width, and 1.85m in height. The lid is sealed with mortar, which is an indication that it probably has never been opened, and that in itself is unusual, given that most ancient graves have been desecrated by robbers.

Given that it weighs around 30 tons, it will probably need to be opened on site.

 

Source: Google

Could this be the sepulchre of Alexander the Great? Doubtful, although it probably belonged to a prominent, wealthy man. However, it not luxurious enough for a king, especially one of Alexander’s radiance. An alabaster bust was found in the grave, believed to be that of its owner, but unfortunately its features are quite eroded.

Archaeologists are now all agog to open the sarcophagus, hoping to find clues to its owner inside.

Stay tuned for developments.

Experiments in eco printing


I tried eco printing some time ago, having seen some interesting posts on Instagram. Eco printing consists in creating marks on paper or cloth, using vegetable material. As you can imagine, depending on the type of paper or cloth, the results vary widely. Cotton will dye differently from silk, and watercolor paper differently from rice paper. Various plants and flowers also leave more or less color, in more or less distinct patterns. Apparently red cabbage makes bright blue marks, something I have yet to try.

 

 

It is necessary to use a mordant such as alum powder or rusty metal to help the color adhere to the material better. After that, the plants are placed upon the paper, tied in bundles, and either left in the sun for a day or more, boiled, or steamed. Some people place paper sheets flat between boards, others roll them up in a bundle tied with string. The whole thing is a lot of fun since you can never be sure of the result—only perhaps if you have done this for years? But even then, I saw on Instagram that people are always getting surprises. The idea is to experiment as far as your fancy takes you.

 

The first time I tried it, I soaked the paper in water with alum and used dead leaves, mostly maple and oak, since it was the autumn. The results were quite satisfying, and I painted moths and insects on top, and even a lizard.

This time I wanted to created material I could use for collage, in a series of paintings I’m planning about Greek nature. As some of you might know, I’m very into layers and textures at the moment, so I thought this would provide an extra dimension. I wanted to try rice paper, because of the transparency, so I used some of that, plus normal watercolor paper I had left over from last time and kadhi paper, which is made from cotton rag. At the last minute, I threw in some tissue paper too.

 

For the plant material I gathered a collection of fresh green leaves and flowers: bougainvillea, oleander, lavender, along with fig, olive and plane tree leaves. And some sprigs of rosemary.

As I wanted to get quite a subtle effect, I used vinegar and rusty metal as a mordant instead of alum. The results were full of surprises, as always.

Strangely, the bougainvillea flowers left almost no marks on the paper, despite their bright coloring. Generally colors were a lot less bright than on the paper which had been soaked in the alum solution, and marks a lot more distinct on watercolor paper than on the rice paper.

The rice paper sheets stuck to each other and tended to tear when I tried to separate them. Of course, I did so while they were still damp, so maybe I should have been more patient and let them dry first. The tissue paper came out like a wad of used Kleenex, and I only managed to salvage a few scraps.

 

As seen above, the results look rather a sorry lot. However, they will still do my job, since I will be tearing pieces off, glueing them to my paper and painting or drawing on top. So I have ended up with a large pile of very interesting material to experiment with, and can’t wait to get started!

I have not here included instructions for making eco prints, as these vary wildly and there are many to be found easily by googling. However, I will recommend two Instagram sites: Fallowflora and book.and.paper.arts have some great examples and are worth taking a look at.

If anyone has done or does this and has some tips or remarks for me, I would be very pleased to have them!

 

Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell

Some of you might remember a post about Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (here for those who’ve missed it). This artist fascinates me both because of her work, which dislays a very original vision of life, and her history, about which I will say more later. I was therefore interested to come upon an article which described her relationship with another artist, Joseph Cornell, a man almost as strange as herself. Cornell, a reclusive who made the most exquisite collages and boxes, has also been an old favorite of mine, but I had no idea these two were connected in any way.

 

Kusama with Pumpkin, 2010Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/ Singapore and Victoria Miro Gallery. Source: Google

 

Yayoi Kusama was born in Tokyo in 1929, the daughter of a horrendously abusive mother who used to tear up her paintings. She suffered from hallucinations since she was a child and, although these developed into the mental illness that led to her spending her life in an asylum, drawing upon these experiences also served as a basis for her art.

Nurturing a fierce determination to move to New York, Kusama wrote to Georgia O’Keefe and, having received a reply, showed up in the city with no money and little English. In the beginning she was beset by loneliness and poverty, but eventually she became involved in an artistic community which included Georgia O’Keefe, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Eva Hesse. She became an advocate of free love in 1960 New York, leading nude happenings for which she was reviled as a national disgrace in her homeland.
She became renowned as painter, pop artist, cultural activist, and experimented in various mediums including sculpture, painting, collage, film, performance, happenings, fashion design, and publishing.

 

 

She gained recognition for her sexually charged public performances in Central Park protesting the Vietnam War, her large-scale infinity net paintings, psychedelic mirror room installations, and the ‘Narcissus Garden’ which was shown at the 1966 Venice Biennale.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Horse Play in Woodstock, a happening, 1967. Source:Google

 

Despite presiding over orgies, Kusama had a fear of sex, perhaps because she had suffered from her father’s philandering, and remained abstinent throughout her life. So it was that when she met Joseph Cornell, an odd-duck loner 26 years her senior, who lived with his domineering mother in Flushing, Queens, the two struck up an intense, albeit platonic relationship.

In the basement of his mother’s house, Cornell spent his days dreaming and making delicately detailed glass-covered boxes. These are small imagined worlds made up of found objects where a ping pong ball becomes the moon, or wooden animals and cutout birds are suspended over a landscape of newspaper clippings and little stamps. He often used star maps, small machine parts, pebbles and corks,  along with text from old newspapers and magazines, to create collages. Into these he channeled all his longings and dreams of romance, vanished European cities, and travel to faraway places.

 

Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery, 1943. Photograph: Mark Gulezian
Source:Google

 

Cornell hated selling these precious objects, frequently changing galleries and dealers so that no one could gain too much control over his work. But he loved to give them away, especially to women. A deeply romantic man, he adored women but was crippled by physical reserve, accentuated by the behavior and influence of his jealous and possessive mother.

 

A Parrot for Juan Gris, 1953-54. Courtesy of Quicksilver/The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Vaga, NY/Dacs.
Source:Google

 

Cornell became besotted by Kusama, flooding her mailbox with letters and personalized collages, and calling her on the phone constantly.

They became close, often spending time at Cornell’s mother’s home in Queens, passing the day sketching each other in the nude. Of course his mother deeply disapproved of this, and apparently once poured a bucket of water over them as they sat kissing beneath the backyard quince tree.

 

Yayoi Kusama with Joseph Cornell in New York, 1970
Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc. Source:Google

 

After some time Kusama took a step back, feeling the situation had got claustrophobic, but the two isolated, driven, visionary misfits remained close until his death in 1972.

 

Box by Joseph Cornell. Source:Google

 

Kusama was deeply affected by Cornell’s death. She returned to Japan, and in 1977 checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she eventually took up permanent residence. She has been living at the hospital ever since, going to work in her studio only a short distance away. Cornell’s influence did not end with his death, however, since he had given her boxes of magazine cuttings and other materials which she subsequently used to make a series of luminous collages. These feature elements of his style including surrealist cutouts, layered with her signature pattern of polka dots and infinity nets.

 

Yayoi Kusama
“Self Portrait,” 1972. Source:Google

 

As I mentioned before, Kusama was also involved in publishing a number of works; and while I’m not about to pick up a book entitled ‘Love suicide at Sakuragazuka’, I remain entranced by her unique, delightful weirdness.

 

These days Yayoi Kusama is rarely seen without her trademark red wig and dotty clothing. Source:Google