Thursday, September 30, 2010
Several years ago I was strolling through a Portland park with an infant-Audrey strapped to my chest in one of those ridiculously long fabric harnesses. Her great walnut eyes were peeking out from beneath the rim of her little white bonnet and her arms and legs dangled loosely like a stuffed monkey that has been put on display in the shop window of a toy store. Suddenly a woman came up to me and tsk-ed. Literally, tsk-ed as though I had done something wrong! I turned around to see if I had unknowingly dropped a bit of trash along the sidewalk. I looked at her with inquiring eyes, but she didn't crack a smile. Instead she gave a short, sharp little nod and said, "That is too cute. It should be illegal."
I feel the same sentiment wash over me every time I look at these pictures - and it is compounded by a cool rush of relief and sisterly pride that the man featured in them is now, officially, as of two o'clock in the afternoon on September the 24th, RJA, Esquire. Extraordinaire. And his bride-to-be? Well, she's just extraordinary. Purely and simply.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The film, “Seraphine,” chronicles the life of French painter Seraphine who grew up in the town of Senlis, about forty kilometers from Paris. Seraphine, who is brilliantly portrayed by the actress Yolande Moreau, was orphaned at seven, received no formal education, and spent most of her life working as a domestic servant or housemaid.
As a mother – (i.e. one to whom the term domestic servant may be just as easily applied) – I was immediately drawn into the life of this woman whose time is chiefly consumed with menial tasks: mopping floors, washing linens, scrubbing dishes, heating and preparing baths, and cleaning up after meals she did not have the privilege to enjoy.
In the afternoons, after her work is through, and particularly whenever she is sad or depressed, Seraphine takes long walks through the neighboring countryside. She limps down hillsides dappled with wild thistles, fingering the grass, and absorbing the sound of insect and bird. On warm days, she sometimes refreshes herself by bathing in the creek and listening to the wind as it rustles through the tingling branches of trees. Occasionally, she even climbs them, and one of the film’s most resounding images is of the forty-year-old woman perched on a limb, looking down on the rolling, wind-swept hills with an expression of childlike wonder.
But Seraphine can only absorb nature's glories for so long... at a certain point, she must find some way of expressing the beauty she has imbibed. In later years, Seraphine claimed that, as a young girl working in a French monastery, she had been visited by her guardian angel who commissioned her to paint.
Drawing from the ordinary venues of her common life, Seraphine teaches herself how to mix paint. The film depicts her quite literally filching supplies for this purpose: she bottles melted wax from the candles in the cathedral, and fills an old vial with bloody water when the butcher is busy helping other customers. In reality, Seraphine never revealed what ingredients she used to make her paint – but whatever they were, they stood the test of time.
During most of her “career,” she painted by candlelight, and in secret, singing hymns to God while using her fingertips to achieve effects which most artists can afford to accomplish with a brush.
It was not until 1914, when a famous German art collector and critic, Wilhelm Uhde, rented an apartment in the small town of Senlis, that Seraphine’s work was “discovered.” When his landlady invited him into her rooms, Uhde inquired about a still-life he saw leaning against a wall and was amazed to learn that it was painted by his housecleaner, Seraphine, a seemingly coarse woman who was frequently laughed at by others.
Uhde believed in Seraphine and it is largely due to his advocacy and patronage that she ultimately came to be recognized as a “legitimate” artist, classed among the “Modern Primitives,” or “Masters of Naïve Painting,” whose work is characterized by a childlike simplicity, or, naïve depiction of nature, which often belies the actual skill of the artist.
In externals, Seraphine was the kind of person any society would deem underprivileged or unfortunate. Like so many who are "afflicted" with an artistic temperament, she walked a fine line between visionary creation and mental illness thus she often acted in strangely unexpected and bizarre ways.
Yet history shows her to have been a great visionary artist with a rare ability to transcribe, in her paintings, the mystical beauty of the created world. "I have to raise my eyes," she said when posing for a photograph, "because my inspiration comes from above."
Sunday, September 19, 2010
It's the little things that come back to me in quiet moments, filling my heart with joy and wonder. This image keeps recurring in my mind, of Evangeline standing before an old wooden ship which Dutch drug down from the attic of our rented beach house.
The ship's belly was filled with little wooden cannons and a gang of wooden sailors, whose black hair was made of yarn. They all wore white linen pants and gray jackets and their shoes were painted a glossy black. I'm not sure who was more enamored with them - the girls, or me!
I could have watched them for hours, filling the prow with Scrabble pieces and arranging the cannons into long straight lines beneath the black masts of the ship's extravagant sail.
To our amusement the cannons contained little wooden spools in place of cannon balls. To shoot the spools one had only to pull back and release a round knob at the back of the cannon - Audrey's sole preoccupation once she discovered it was possible. But it was Evie, Evie, looking on eagerly, and squealing, grunting, shrieking with anticipation, who really astounded me. For once she realized that the cannon was capable of such a mechanical feat, she would not rest until she could shoot it herself - a near impossible task for a one-year-old with chubby fingers! But Evangeline was persistent; she would make the thing shoot. She plied and plied... And then it happened - once, as if by accident, the spool went up, up over the sail, bounced onto the carpet, and glided cleanly across the wood floor.
Such a look of smiling satisfaction broke out across her face that we all erupted with smiles - smiles and whoops and cheers. And I wondered to myself how the world had ever grown tired of such old-fashioned games.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Monday, September 6, 2010
It was the moment before they ducked their glowing faces into the gleaming white car and waved goodbye. I stood barefoot on the paved road, my camera resting on some forgotten table or chair, just smiling and smiling. A thousand thanks go to Betsy, for her gorgeous touch!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I hope it will not be perceived, in the eyes of the artist, my aunt, as an act of impertinence that I am displaying one of her unfinished pictures, but the portrait's subject - my grandmother, Frances Stallone Anfuso - is so lovely, the rendering so beautiful, so colorful, and so inspired, that I cannot help myself! It was pure dumb luck that I happened to visit her on the afternoon that she was painting it...