Archive for the Music & Dance Category

Venetian Red Bookshelf: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

Posted in Artists Speak, Book Review, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Music & Dance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2013 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Recollect that only when habits of order are formed can we advance to really interesting fields of action—and consequently accumulate grain on grain of wilful choice like a very miser—never forgetting how one link dropped undoes indefinite number.   —William James

I wish I had a routine for writing. I get up in the morning and I go out to my studio and write. And then I tear it up! That’s the routine really. And then, occasionally, something sticks. The only image I can think of is a man walking around with an iron rod in his hand during a lightning storm.   —Arthur Miller

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307273601?ie=UTF8&camp=213733&creative=393185&creativeASIN=0307273601&linkCode=shr&tag=venered-20&=books&qid=1371354568&sr=1-1&keywords=daily+rituals

Always struggling to create working discipline in my creative life, I snatched up Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals, hoping to glean a few actionable tidbits this compilation of anecdotes on the working habits of 161 writers, musicians and artists, from Voltaire to Abramović.  Culled from Curry’s blog of the name, the book is a fast and entertaining read.  Though I wasn’t struck by proverbial lightening bolts while reading, after digesting the book I did formulate one hugely-important overriding maxim for myself.  More about that below.

A disclaimer in the book’s introduction sets a modest stage:

“…this is a superficial book… it’s about the circumstances of creative activity, not the product; it deals with manufacturing rather than meaning.”

I suspect the book has been wildly popular precisely because it looks behind the curtain, so to speak, of the creative process.  Not exactly a “how to” book, Daily Rituals is nevertheless instructive.  In the introduction Curry purports to address (if not answer) the big hairy questions we all ponder:

How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living?

Is it better to devote yourself wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day?

When there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give some things up or can you learn to condense activities, to work “smarter”?

Are comfort and creativity incompatible? Or is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

yousuf-karsh-vladimir-nabokov-1899-1977-3-november-1972

Vladimir Nabokov
©Yousuf Karsh

The book is not organized around these questions (in fact, an organizing principle was not obvious to me), and leaves the reader to his or her own conclusions. Helpful patterns do emerge, however:

Wake Up.  Creatives rise around the clock.  At one end, rose Proust typically did not get up until 3 or 4 in the afternoon; on the other end,
Balzac rose at 1am.

Work Routine. This category too yielded no regularity.  As a visual artist, I was astonished (jealous?) to discover how few hours most of the writers purport to work day, usually just a few hours before noon. Many set word limits for themselves and then, working day completed, went on to the other parts of their lives. (To be fair, many writers held/hold down paying jobs—Trollope, Cornell, Eliot, Joyce.) Some, like Simon de Beauvoir did, work in two shifts, adding an after dinner session to the morning routine. Philip Roth reports all-day work. Conversely, Gertrude Stein habitually wrote only 30 minutes a day. Descartes believed idleness was essential to good mental work.  Henry Miller had to switch routines midway through life, realizing that he was a morning person. Francis Bacon’s routine was chaos. One look at his studio, faithfully reproduced in The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, tells you all you need to know.

Bed. A big part of the routine, especially for writers… Proust wrote exclusively in bed, his head propped up by two pillows. Truman Capote always wrote “horizontally.” I particularly relish the image conjured up by James Joyce’s sister of the writer in bed”smothered in his own thoughts.”

Cecil Beaton, Dame Edith Sitwell, 1962 Bromide Print on card mount Courtesy National Gallery

Cecil Beaton, Dame Edith Sitwell, 1962
Bromide print on card mount
Courtesy National Gallery

Edith Sitwell, who was reputed to have slept in a coffin from time to time (one would have thought that would be Anne Rice’s territory…), also enjoyed her bed.  “All women should have a day a week in bed,”  she quipped. At the end of one particularly long day working in bed, she observed:  “I am honestly so tired that all I can do is lie on my bed with my mouth open.”

Although Frida Kahlo is not included in this book, one is reminded of her lengthy and involuntary stays in bed. So driven to work, she rigged ingenious set ups , which allowed her to paint while nearly immobilized.

Food. For breakfast, coffee or tea, toast and, more often than not, cigarettes. It seems that hardly anyone in the book skipped breakfast or at least the first meal of the day. (Possibly the advice imparted by a recent graduation speaker—”Never start something new on an empty stomach”—is already common wisdom among creatives.)  Lunch and dinner are also recorded, mostly as social events with family or friends.

Stimulants. Daily Rituals offers irrefutable confirmation that creatives consume copious amounts of alcohol, occasionally while working. (Or used to, at any rate. Maybe that has all changed in today’s health-conscious world.)  Francis Bacon was legendary, living a life of “hedonistic excess, eating many rich meals a day, drinking tremendous quantities of alcohol, taking whatever stimulants were handy, and generally staying out later and partying harder than any of his contemporaries.”

John Deakin, Francis Bacon. 1962

John Deakin Francis Bacon,1962
© The Estate of John Deakin

Patricia Highsmithalways downed a stiff drink before starting work, in order to calm her manic energy level. Toulouse-Lautrec was well-known for his nights of binge drinking. That routine probably cost him his life—he died at 36.

Smoking. Many many cigarettes of course, but also cigars (Georges Sand famously; Thomas Mann, continuously), and some pipes.  Bathus had a most evocative description of the uses of smoking:

“I’ve always painted while smoking. I am reminded of this habit in photographs from my youth. I intuitively understood that smoking double my faculty of concentration, allowing me to be entirely within a canvas.”

Other habits & diversions:  Creative people spend lots and lots of walking. (A body in motion is a powerful ideation tool.) And working at regular income jobs. On the subject of breaks, composer John Adams sensibly says: “The problem is that you do get run out of creative energy and sometimes you want to take a mental break.”

And indulge in your guilty pleasures! PG Wodehouse reportedly never missed an episode of “The Edge of Night” afternoon soap opera.

Henri Matisse at work Photograph © Alvin Langdon Coburn, courtesy Getty Images

Henri Matisse at work
© Alvin Langdon Coburn, courtesy Getty Images

On the pain and joy of the craft. Writers compete for superlatives on the distress of working. Philip Roth: “Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare.”  Styron similarly complains: “Let’s face it, writing is hell.” Ira Gershwin observed of his brother, George: “To me George was a little sad all the time because he had this compulsion to work. He never relaxed.”

On the other hand, joyful work be yours, if you happen to be a creative Gustave. The Austrian Mahler:  “You know that all I desire and demand of life is to feel an urge to work!” The French Flaubert quipped: ” After all, work is still the best way of escaping from life!”

Among visual artists, Matisse was perhaps the most relentless worker, even telling “all sorts of tales” to get his models to work on Sundays.  “I can’t sacrifice my Sundays for them just because they have boyfriends.” Matisse had the great fortune to basically enjoy everything. “I am never bored,” he often admitted.

Chuck Close, Self Portrait,  2006

Chuck Close, Self Portrait, 2006

I’m not sure Daily Rituals provides overt answers to the big questions Curry poses at the onset.  In the aggregate, its overwhelming message is that creative work, like all work, is often just relentless grind.  One has to find the ways to muscle through. On a personal note, I try to live by Chuck Close’s well-known adage: ” Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Amidst our creative toil, who among us has not at times felt Kafka’s lament: “Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”

If the 161 anecdotes in Daily Rituals offer any collective wisdom, it is that there is no one way to achieve regular production.  That’s permission to engage in whatever habits work best for one’s own creative process, as long as the habit is regular.  In a 2005 NY Times article, Michael Kimmelman noted: “Out of routine comes inspiration. That’s the idea, anyway. To grasp what’s exceptional, you first have to know what’s routine.”

Find a process and trust it.

The Rabbit Hole

Twyla Tharpe—The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
More Artist Routines—How We Work
John Deakin: Photographs
Eric Fishl—Bad Boy: My Life On and Off the Canvas
NY Foundation for the Arts—”Ten Habits of Successful Artists

“Toy Theater: Worlds in Miniature”

Posted in Christine Cariati, Collage & Photomontage, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Music & Dance, Paper with tags , , on July 14, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Toy Theatres: Worlds in Miniature is now on exhibit at San Francisco’s Museum of Performance & Design.

The exhibition is a wonderful display of 21 rare toy theaters from the United States, England, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Mexico—they date from the 18th century up to the present. In addition to the theaters, the walls are filled with colorful printed sheets of scenery and costumed characters.

Venetian Red has previously written extensively about toy theaters, so this post is merely a reminder to anyone in the Bay Area to go see this delightful show. Perhaps it will inspire a toy theater festival like the one Great Small Works hosts annually in New York!

Wider Connections

The Play’s the Thing: A History of Toy Theater in Three Acts
Great Small Works
Peter Baldwin, Toy Theatres of the World
Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, London

The Mythic Resonance of Wagner’s Die Walküre

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Opera with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

American aviator Amy Johnson (1903-1941)
Photograph by John Capstack
Courtesy Getty Images

Instead of a single phase in the world’s evolution, what I had glimpsed was the essence of the world itself in all its conceivable phases…

—Richard Wagner

In the San Francisco Opera‘s current production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre, director Francesca Zambello has created an intensely dramatic and powerful version of the opera that vibrates with immediate, palpable emotion and profound psychology. The splendid cast, including Nina Stemme, Mark Delavan, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Christopher Ventris and Raymond Aceto give outstanding performances. The orchestra, under the brilliant leadership of one of the world’s great Wagner conductors, Donald Runnicles, brought out every nuance and shading in Wagner’s shimmering, multi-layered and sumptuous score. The leitmotifs of Wagner’s music intertwine seamlessly with the drama on stage, creating a riveting whole—what Wagner called Gesamtkuntswerk.


The setting of Die Walküre, the second opera in Wagner’s four-part The Ring of the Nibelungen, is updated in this production to 1920s America, with the god Wotan as a captain of industry amid towering skyscrapers. The Valkyries, led by Brünnhilde and her eight sisters—Wotan’s daughters by the earth goddess, Erda—are aviators who parachute onto the stage in Act III. This update creates a surprisingly harmonious blending of timeless mythology with American mythology.

Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde

In Die Walküre, which takes place a decade after the first opera, we are in a darker world in which humans and gods have to cope with the legacy of the missteps and hubris of the gods in Das Rheingold. Brünnhilde, the only character in the cycle who is able to truly listen and change, begins her transformation in Die Walküre, and Stemme projects every nuance of this transformation vocally and dramatically. My gold-standard for a great Brünnhilde is the legendary Birgit Nilsson, who I was lucky enough to see perform the role several times, and I found Stemme’s performance remarkable and profound.

Normally I’d say, if you live anywhere near San Francisco, don’t miss this production (the last performance is June 30th)—but wherever you are, it’s worth the trip—do not miss it!

Venetian Red Bookshelf: Just Kids

Posted in Artists Speak, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Music & Dance, Photography, Poetry with tags , , on April 24, 2010 by Liz Hager

Venetian Red Bookshelf is a monthly feature which highlights books of interest from our bookshelves and studio worktables.

By LIZ HAGER

Just Kids could be described as the story of Patti Smith’s five-year relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe (first as lovers, then as friends), played out against the background of the post-folk, pre-punk, gritty downtown Manhattan of the 1970s. But this description doesn’t do full justice to the book, which is, by turns, a tender memoir evoking the exuberance and naiveté of youth (and of Smith); a Dickensian chronicle of a chaotic time and place, which nurtured many famous (and infamous) talents; and  a poignant eulogy to a deep and lifelong love fueled by a shared passion for art (Smith and Mapplethorpe remained close friends until his death in 1987).

The “facts” of the Smith-Mapplethorpe story are well recorded. One needn’t read Just Kids for that, although Smith’s adept juggling of the many themes gives the book depth beyond the usual “kiss and tell” narratives.

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, ca. 1969

It is Smith’s prose style that provides Just Kids with the wings to soar. Smith has a way of seamlessly weaving the banal with the profound, simultaneously grounding a scene in detail and elevating it to the realm of the prophetic. This is her signature poetry/song-writing style, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the book is a sneaky, sometimes quiet, always powerful and, ultimately, riveting read.

Smith arrived in New York in the summer of 1967, virtually penniless and alone, having been transformed by the revelation that “human beings create art.

It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of “Crystal Ship.” Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played “Ode to Billie Joe.” There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 31)

Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe, 1969

Actually, she encountered Mapplethorpe twice that summer. First, he simply pointed her to a place to crash. Though a brief encounter, the attraction was instantaneous and intense. Later, Mapplethorpe happened to be walking through St. Mark’s Square and rescued her from a date on the verge of going bad.

In the beginning, theirs was a life defined by near-destitution—scrounging for food and living in a string of truly grungy apartments. It’s no surprise the transformation of these spaces gives rise to their early collaborative work together.

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, ca 1969 (Photo by Norman Seeff)

By the time they met, Mapplethorpe had studied art formally at Pratt. He was already a confident soul with absolute clarity about becoming the rage of the art world. Smith was largely self-educated but

. . . longed to enter the fraternity of the artist: the hunger, their manner of dress, their processes and prayers. I’d brag that I was going to be an artist’s mistress one day. Nothing seemed more romantic to my young mind. I imagined myself as Frida to Diego, both muse and maker. I dreamed of meeting an artist to love and support and work with side by side.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 12)

As their orbits merged, the mutual devotion to each other’s talent became lasting and unshakable.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1975

Smith was Mapplethorpe’s soul mate and muse. In the early years she constantly suggested he move from collages to his own photographic work. When he did switch, she was the model in his early Poloroids. These were true collaborations from choice of set up to pose. Smith would appear in his work, as he moved to formal studio work and movies.

Mapplethorpe was the more self-possessed of the two, and Smith describes him as “looking for shortcuts.” “Why should I take the long road?” he wonders. The following passage is an illuminating one:

Robert’s great wish was to break into the world that surrounded Andy Warhol, though he had no desire to be part of his stable or to star in his movies. Robert often said he knew Andy’s game, and felt that if he could talk to him, Andy would recognize him as an equal. Although I believed he merited an audience with Andy, I felt any significant dialogue with him was unlikely, for Andy was like an eel, perfectly able to slither from any meaningful confrontation.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 116)

Robert Mapplethorpe, Cover of Witt, 1973, Poloroid photo

Mapplethorpe was always highly supportive of Smith’s work, pushing her to write and publish. She admits to being less confident of her own talents:

Robert had little patience with these introspective bouts of mine. He never seemed to question his artistic drives, and by his example, I understood what matters is the work: the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the weave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion. To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution. From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 65)

Over time, Smith’s creative force would be coaxed from her. In a poignant note,  she writes of Mapplethorpes effect on her:

You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God.

Patti Smith, Just Kids p. 276

In 1969 the two moved to a tiny room in the Chelsea Hotel, a seminal move which ultimately set their respective careers on track.

Patti Smith and Jim Carroll, ca. 1970

A cast of greater and lesser characters tramp in and out of the Chelsea’s lobby. It was here that Smith and Mapplethorpe met many of the people who would have defining roles in their careers—Gregory Corso, William Burroughs, Harry Smith, Sam Shepard, filmmaker Sandy Daley, Andy Warhol and members of the Entourage, Janis Joplin, Bob Neuwirth, Todd Rundgren, Jim Carroll—though Mapplethorpe also had a vibrant life outside the hotel.

The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. . .  So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 112 and 113)

Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, 1975

Encouraged into poetry readings and then musical performances, Smith was ultimately signed by Clive Davis to Arista Records 1975. Her 1978 song “Because the Night” (co-penned with Bruce Springsteen) made her famous, an irony that was not lost on Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1985
(The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)
Mapplethorpe evoking a favorite artist, Michelangelo.

Mapplethorpe would climb to fame his own way, mostly along the rungs of high society. Under the auspices of John McKendry (Curator of Prints and Photographs at the Met), who was married to socialite Maxine de la Falaise, and later collector/curator/lover Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe began to show his photographs. Though he photographed many subjects, it was his male nudes and their often explicit evocation of gay sexuality that gained him notoriety.

Just Kids reports, but does not linger, on Mapplethorpe’s journey out of the closet. Though Mapplethorpe was an expert at hiding his orientation, it’s hard to believe the Smith of the early 1970s was naive enough not to recognize the outward signs of his inner life. Evoking his grounding in Catholicism, she reports:

Later he would say that the Church led him to God, and LSD led him to the universe. He also said that art led him to the devil, and sex kept him with the devil.

Patti Smith, Just Kids (p. 63)

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1988
(The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)

Inevitably,  melancholy hovers over the pages of Just Kids. The book evokes the promise, freedom and exuberance of youthful world in which, as Smith coins it “everything awaited.” But we know the adult world is coming—kids, careers, and ultimately death (AIDS). Both Smith and Mapplethorpe achieved their dreams of fame. One paid for it with his life.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, 1986
(The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation)

Wider Connections

Patti Smith reads from Just Kids
Youtube: The Photography of Robert Mapplethorpe
Patricia Morrisroe—Mapplethorpe: A Biography
Patti Smith Complete 1975-2006: Lyrics, Reflections & Notes for the Future
Victor Bokris and Roberta Bayley—Patti Smith: The Unauthorized Biography

Christian Bérard: Painter, Designer, Illustrator

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Drawing, Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Music & Dance, Painting, Rugs, Textiles, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Christian Bérard, Self-portrait, 1948
Oil on canvas, 18″ x 24″
Private collection, Paris

Christian Bérard (1902-1949) was a prodigiously-talented artist, whose tremendous facility across different fields, and his status as the darling of fashionable society in the Paris of the 1920s and 1930s, undermined his reputation as a serious painter. Bérard’s work confounded the critics because his work was unclassifiable—it existed outside the current theories of art, and he interchanged techniques and disciplines. Bérard’s ground-breaking set and costume designs, fashion and book illustrations, murals, decorative screens and interior designs all demonstrated a sensitive, fluid, graceful, elegant line.

Christian Bérard, Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1932
Mural for Jean Cocteau’s flat, Paris

Christian Bérard, set for Margot, 1935
Margot’s Room at the Louvre, Act II, Scene 1
Gouache on paper

Bérard’s paintings, mostly portraits and self-portraits, added another dimension to his talent as a draughtsman. Painted with insight and great skill, in a neo-romantic, poetic style, they exhibit a deeply-felt humanism. His friend and partner of 20 years, Boris Kochno, remarked that when he was painting, Bérard’s usual childlike exuberance would vanish, and he would work with great concentration and intensity, seeming to take instruction from an unseen third party. Bérard often reused canvases, painting over work he was dissatisfied with—so one can occasionally glimpse ghost-like images, faint faces, emerging from some of his paintings.

Christian Bérard, Madame L., 1947
Oil on canvas, 32″ x 26″
Private Collection

Christian Bérard, Boris Kochno, 1930
Oil on cardboard, 43″ x 31″
Collection Boris Kochno

Christian Bérard, Emilio Terry, 1931
Oil on canvas, 36″ x 28″
Private collection, Paris

Born in Paris in 1902, Bérard was the son of the official architect of the city of Paris, André Bérard. His mother’s early death from tuberculosis was traumatic for the young Bérard. After his wife’s death, the elder Bérard married his secretary, who joined him in the constant disparaging and belittling of his son’s talents, friendships and spending habits. Perhaps Bérard’s life-long desire to please and give pleasure, and his susceptibility to flattery, was a reaction to this early and intense hostility from his family.

Christian Bérard, 1932
Photograph, Hoyningen-Huene

Bérard showed artistic talent at a young age. As a child he filled sketchbooks with drawings of ballets and circus performances that he attended with his parents. He also copied the couture gowns from his mother’s fashion magazines, which at that time were heavily influenced by the Orientalism of Léon Bakst’s sets for Diaghilev’s ballets. As a young man, he studied at the Académie Ranson with Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis and had his first gallery show in 1925. His early work was collected by Gertrude Stein, and he did portraits of his friends Coco Chanel, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst.

Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, 1928
Oil on canvas, 26″ x 21″
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Christian Bérard, Horst P. Horst, 1933/34
Oil on canvas, 31″ x 41″
Private collection, New York

Throughout his career, when he needed the income, Bérard continued to do illustrations for fashion and interior design magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Art et Style, Formes et Coleurs and Style en France. He had a great eye for fashion and style, and his work elevated the art of fashion illustration, updating a Watteau or Fragonard sensibility for women’s fashion to the styles of the 1930s and 40s. His work often inspired the couture collections of designers like Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Nina Ricci. Bérard also did some interior decoration and textile design—painting murals and decorative screens, designing rugs—as well as a line of scarves for Ascher Silks, London.

Christian Bérard, illustration, beachwear for Schiaparelli, n.d.

Christian Bérard, Scarf designed for Ascher Silks, London

Christian Bérard, carpet design, c. 1940
Made by Maurice Lauer/Aubusson and Cogolin, reissued 1951

Bérard also continued to do illustrations for theater and ballet posters, music scores, and advertising throughout his life.

Christian Bérard, Sketch for an illustration of Gigi by Colette, n.d.
Pastel and gouache, 13″ x 8″

Christian Bérard, Poster for the Ballets des Champs-Elysées

Christian Bérard, Empress Josephine
Illustration for Queens of France by Jean Cocteau and Guillaume, 1949
Drypoint

Christian Berard, Illustration for score by Georges Auric, 1935
Gouache on paper

Christian Bérard was a large man, with fair hair, luminous blue eyes, and a rosy plump face that earned him the nickname Bébé, given to him by his friends because he resembled the baby in an advertisement for soap that was currently up all over Paris. Bérard’s appearance was often disheveled, he would stride into Maxim’s or other society nightspots in tattered paint-spattered smock and torn coveralls, with a large patterned scarf flung dramatically over his baggy workman’s jacket. Boris Kochno also recounts long walks through Paris at night—Bérard constantly noticing and pointing out glimpses of magical scenes, almost like a conjurer. Bérard never lost his childhood enjoyment of carnivals and street fairs and threw himself with great enthusiasm into the constant round of costume parties given by his friends. He excelled at spontaneously creating costumes from fabrics and items at hand.

Christian Bérard, sketch for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1938
Indian ink and gouache
Private collection

When agitated or absorbed in his work, Bérard could be very clumsy, and he could turn a well-ordered room into chaos in short order—leaving a wake of crumbled papers, overflowing ash trays, and stepped-on tubes of paint.  He was also extremely witty and charming—his spontaneity, kindness and charisma made him very popular in fashionable circles. He was always creating—while dining with friends, like New York society hostess Elsa Maxwell, Bérard would constantly be drawing on table cloths, napkins, menus—caricatures, stage sets, costumes. The waiters would hover and often quickly whisk them away, usually to sell to collectors.

Christian Bèrard, Program for Le Théàtre de la Mode, 1945

In 1930, Bérard designed his first theater set, for Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine at the Comédie-Française. Cocteau was a life-long friend, and the work that Bérard is perhaps most famous for, is his set and costume design for Cocteau’s film masterpiece, La Belle et la Bête. Unfortunately, Bérard also shared Cocteau’s vice, the smoking of opium, which lead to a life of drug addiction, repeated sanatorium cures, and contributed to his early death.

Christian Bérard, sketchess for sets for Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bête, 1946
Chalk and gouache on black paper
Private Collection

In 1931, Bérard joined the company of the Ballet Russes in Monte Carlo, working with choreographer George Balanchine on the ballet Cotillon. Balanchine had taken over for ballet impresario and founder of the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. Balanchine continued in Diaghilev’s tradition of scouring the garrets of Montparnasse and Montmartre to find unknown choreographers, set designers or musicians to collaborate with. At first Balanchine declined to work with Bérard because he thought his work was already too well-known as an artist and illustrator, but the quality of Bérard’s work caused him to change his mind.

Christian Bérard, sketch for L’Ecole des Femmes, 1936
Horace’s Costume, Gouache

In the 1930s, Bérard did the sets and costumes for four ballets as well as many plays, such as Moliere’s L’Ecole des Femmes at the Théàtre de l’Athenée in 1936. He also worked with Jean Genet and Jean Giraudoux, among others. Bérard’s work was revolutionary and changed theater design forever—his set for L’Ecole consisted of a small garden, two flowerbeds and 5 chandeliers. He believed that  sets should serve and enhance the work, he was always subtracting elements, leaving just the essentials. His set for Léonid Massine’s ballet set to the music of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, was a masterpiece of delicate, weightless friezes. Except for the judicious use of deep red, Bérard eschewed bright colors, believing that pale, soft color better served the performances. To see Bérard working on a set was to see an outpouring of inventiveness. After Bérard’s death, Jean Cocteau said of working with his friend:

Christian Bérard was my right hand. Since he was left-handed, I had a special, clever, gracious, light right hand: a magical hand.
You may imagine the emptiness left by an artist who guessed all, and with the dilligence of an archeologist, conjured up naked beauty from the thin air where she resides. Bérard is dead, but that is no reason to stop following his instructions. I know what he would say about anything, in any circumstances. I listen to him and carry out his orders.

Christian Bérard in the studio at Fourques, 1940

Christian Berard died in 1949, while at work on the costumes and sets for Les Fourberies de Scapin at the Théàtre Marigny, working with friends director Louis Jouvet and actors Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud. After giving some final instructions, Bérard stood up and said: “Well, that’s that,” and collapsed from a cerebral embolism. Jean-Louis Barrault wrote:

If I had to chose only one among the many impressions of Christian Bérard that spring to mind, it would be one that soon became for him a profession of faith: the joy of living, to the extent of perishing from that joy…It is as if, while I think intensely of him, all of the Bérards leaping about me reply:

‘Love of life is based on suffering, anguish, nostalgia, sorrow and sadness…that’s true, but all that is the source of joy.’

Wider Connections

Christian Bérard’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

Christian Bérard, by Boris Kochno, with an introduction by John Russell. Thames and Hudson, 1988.

Dark Day Picks—Holiday Fare

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Music & Dance, Painting with tags , , on December 14, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Today we feature more ephemeral events, all-too-brief sustenance for the holidays.

Y2Y Gallery, 251 Balboa Street, SFNon*Mart‘s Stop & Swap event, December 19th only.  With a focus on post-consumer goods and recycled materials, Non*Mart encourages the use of existing resources in productive ways. The studio/gallery/shop offers a platform for artists who explore a more relational, less commercial means of economic exchange. Imbedded among many similar activities sponsored periodically by the gallery , the Stop & Swap event is a clever re-interpretation of the holiday gift-giving tradition. The perfect antidote to Capitalismas.

If you do have to buy, head over to Creativity Explored’s Holiday Art Show. Though the artists working and exhibiting here may have developmental disabilities, those haven’t prevented them from communicating movingly and effectively through their art. Possibly  you’ll go home with a future Martín Ramírez . . . Through December 23rd.

UC Berkeley, Zellerbach Hall—Mark Morris: Hard Nut.  Quirky, witty, but always in the end reverential where his muses are concerned, Morris turns the classic Nutcracker ballet on its head.  Although Morris has retained the Tchaikovsky score and Hoffman plotline, he’s shifted the action to the swinging 60s, and the setting provides ample fodder for great merriment. See Culture Vulture for expanded view.  Through December 20th.



In Memorium: Pina Bausch (1940-2009)

Posted in Christine Cariati, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Music & Dance with tags , , on July 7, 2009 by Christine Cariati

PinaBausch

Pina Bausch died on June 30th in Wuppertal, Germany at the age of 68. I had not planned to comment on Venetian Red, but since a week has passed and she is still very much in my thoughts I wanted to acknowledge her passing. Many years ago, when I first saw her Tanztheater Wuppertal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I had read about her work, but was completely unprepared for the enormous impact the performance would have on me. After that evening, I knew that I would see her work wherever and whenever possible.

PinaNelkenPina Bausch, Nelken

When we entered the theater at BAM that first night to see Palermo, Palermo, the entire proscenium opening was filled with a solid wall of cinder block—in fact, we wondered how the dancers could possibly perform on the sliver of stage that remained in front of the wall. At curtain time, the wall began to move and shake and soon crashed backwards on to the stage, leaving the entire theater filled with clouds of dust and the stage completely littered with huge chunks of cement and debris. Then the dancers emerged (the women, as they often were in Bausch’s work, in 4-inch heels) and the astonishing piece unfolded amid the ruins.

PinaTenChiPina Bausch, Ten Chi

Pina Bausch created an entirely new form of dance that she called tanztheater—the dancers ran, walked, threw themselves from great heights, spoke, sang, fought and yelled, usually while navigating a stage covered with dirt, flowers, rubble or water. The dramas they enacted were hilarious, tragic, sexual, reflective and spiritual–often all at once. It’s impossible to describe the impact of these all-encompassing performances when seen in person—their astonishing beauty and emotional impact—but glimpses can be seen in this video and the many others on YouTube.

At the time of her death, Wim Wenders was filming Pina, a 3-D dance film of her work. He has temporarily suspended production, and I ardently hope that he and her dance troupe can find their way to complete the film.

Bausch is often quoted as saying she was “not interested in how people move but in what moves them.” While acknowledging her dancers’ technique, she said “I look for something else. The possibility of making them feel what each gesture means internally. Everything must come from the heart, must be lived.”

PinaBausch

Florine Stettheimer: “Occasionally A Human Being Saw My Light”

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Opera, Painting, XC with tags , , , , , on July 1, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

FSphoto
Florine Stettheimer, c 1917-20
Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

It is often said that Florine Stettheimer, an early-Modernist painter of extreme originality and wit, lived a charmed life. Born to a wealthy German-Jewish family in New York in 1871, she was one of five children. Early on, her father left the family; she and her siblings grew up mostly in Europe. Stettheimer returned to New York in the early 1890s to study at the Art Student’s League, after which she returned to Europe, where she traveled extensively and studied art in Paris and Munich. In 1914, on the eve of World War I, she returned to New York with her mother and two sisters—Carrie and Ettie—and the family settled into an apartment in Alwyn Court on West 58th Street, near Carnegie Hall. There, Stettheimer and her sisters established a legendary salon that was frequented by many of the most important creative people of the time—among them, Marcel Duchamp, Carl Van Vechten, Gaston Lachaise, Sherwood Anderson, Edie Nedelman, Virgil Thompson, Edgar Varese, Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Steiglitz and the art critic Henry McBride.

Florine Stettheimer, Soiree, 1917-1919
Beinecke Library, Yale University

In 1916 the Knoedler Gallery in New York mounted a show of Stettheimer’s work which was a critical and financial disaster. This disappointment, while keenly felt, fortunately pushed Stettheimer to leave behind her tentative, somewhat derivative post-Impressionist style and move on to what was to become her mature work. However, after this disappointment, she mostly showed her work in small group shows or privately at her studio, rarely showing her paintings publicly and refusing to put any of her work up for sale. Before her death in 1944 at the age of 73, Stettheimer asked that her family destroy all of her paintings—fortunately, they did not. In 1946, two years after her death, and at the suggestion of one of her closest friends, Marcel Duchamp, a retrospective of her work was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The show was curated by another friend, art critic Henry McBride. Although critics of the time acknowledged her as as a very important Modernist painter of the early 20th century, and she had the respect and admiration of many of her peers, her paintings then disappeared from view until 1995, when they were exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This show, Florine Stettheimer: Manhattan Fantastica, included early work, her most fully-realized post-1915 pieces as well as her theater and costume designs, dolls and collages.

Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Stettheimer’s paintings are deeply personal—her main subject matter was her family and friends and the rather dreamy world of pleasure they inhabited. In her dazzling and eccentric paintings, with their bold color and openly feminine sensibility, Stettheimer created a unique synthesis of things she studied and loved—one catches glimpses of medieval portraiture, Persian miniatures, Brueghel, early Renaissance painting, Velasquez, children’s art, theater design, Matisse, Surrealism, Symbolism, folk art, fashion illustration, decorative art and interior design. She combines high/low elements in vivid constructions that depict scenes in a non-sequential, dream-like way—she played with perspective and her people and objects often float languidly through a complex universe of multiple narratives that have an allegorical quality. Her use of color was extraordinary, very American, and a complete break with the naturalistic earth tones of European painting. She favored deep reds, blacks, vivid pinks, vibrant blues and deep yellows, often in contrast to strong whites or soft pastels. Her portraits of family and friends in sitting rooms, salons, and summer houses; at picnics, luncheons and soirees—emphasized and immortalized their individual talents and interests. A good example of this is her portrait, below, of the writer Carl Van Vechten, who sits in the center of the painting, surrounded by his cats, books, typewriter and myriad artifacts from his life and work.

Florine Stettheimer, Portrait of Carl Van Vechten, 1922
Beinecke Library, Yale University

And this portrait of her sister Effie, in which Henry McBride described her as looking “…wide-eyed, for the mystery of life…as happy a blend of her worldliness and spirituality as any psychiatrist could ask for.”

FSesxmastree.jpgScan10010Florine Stettheimer, Portrait of My Sister, Ettie Stettheimer, 1923
Columbia University

While Stettheimer made the decision to only show her work privately during her lifetime, she also suffered from the neglect and was resentful of the lack of recognition. Like many women artists, Stettheimer’s personal life has long overshadowed her art. Her work has been vilified as being too feminine, although, as Barbara Bloemink points out, in the prologue to her excellent book, The Life and Art of Florine Stettheimer, “it is difficult to imagine anyone criticizing a work of art as being too masculine.” There was also another obstacle to recognition by the art establishment–she made them uncomfortable. The art world is very inhospitable to independent artists whose work is idiosyncratic and who are neither part of any school nor followers of any group. In his 1996 article on Stettheimer in Art in America, Trevor Winkfield writes: “You can paint anything in New York, runs a well-known truism, as long as three other people are doing the same thing.”

FSheat2Florine Stettheimer, Heat, 1919
The Brooklyn Museum

Stettheimer also had an abiding interest in costume and set design. When she lived in Paris, she fell in love with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which inspired her to write a story for a ballet, Orphee des Quat’z-Arts, in 1912. The ballet was never produced, but Stettheimer designed costumes and built some model sets—the Museum of Modern Art has 44 of the sketches (see below) in their collection, but not on view. In 1934, Stettheimer designed sets and costumes for the Gertrude Stein/Virgil Thomson opera,Four Saints in Three Acts. Very avant-garde for the day, she fashioned the sets from tinsel, cellophane and lace, apparently to great effect when lit to her specifications.

Orphee des Quat'z-ArtsFlorine Stettheimer, Euridice and Her Snake, Two Tango Dancers and St. Francis
design for Orphee des Quat’z Arts, 1912
Gouache, watercolor, metallic paint and pencil on paper

In 1935, Stettheimer’s mother died, and Florine surprised everyone by moving into her studio in the Beaux Arts Building at 8 West 40th Street—living by herself, for the first time, at the age of sixty-four. The success and acclaim garnered from Four Saints, and her newly found independence, increased her self-confidence and spurred her on to a new phase of her work in which she re-worked old themes with a new sense of clarity and purpose.

FSfamilyportrait2Florine Stettheimer, Family Portrait Number 2, 1933
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Her last painting, unfinished at her death, The Cathedrals of Art, is a multi-narrative work, somewhat reminiscent of the structure of early Renaissance painting, that satirizes the power-brokering and competitiveness of the New York art world. The art critic Hilton Kramer later described it as “comic opera…the whole scene is one of shameless hustling and posturing. It is a prophetic as well as a delightful painting.”

Florine Stettheimer, Cathedrals of Art, 1943-44
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stettheimer was a dedicated, accomplished artist who was full of contradictions–she wanted to both avoid the critical spotlight and achieve recognition for her work. In her paintings and poetry she created and re-created the narrative of her life. In her imagery, narratives collide and split, time is erased and reordered. Perhaps this poem, published privately and posthumously in Crystal Flowers, 1949, gives us a glimpse into her elusive persona:

Occasionally
A human being
Saw my light
Rushed in
Got singed
Got scared
Rushed out
Called fire
Or it happened
That he tried
To subdue it
Or it happened
That he tried to extinguish it
Never did a friend
Enjoy it
The way it was.
So I learned to
Turn it low
Turn it out
When I meet a
stranger—
Out of courtesy
I turn on a soft
Pink light
Which is found
modest
Even charming.
it is protection
Against wear
and tears…
And when
I am rid of
The Always-to-be-
Stranger
I turn on my light
And become
myself.

FSnudeFlorine Stettheimer, Portrait of Myself, 1923
Collection, Columbia University, New York

Don’t Cry for Me, America

Posted in Liz Hager, Music & Dance, Politics with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2008 by Liz Hager

Naomi Wolf’s Battle Plan II in the Huffington Post today, which dissects the Rove-Cheney use of Sarah Palin, reminded me of the road “little Eva” Perón travelled to fascist infamy.  InEVITAbly, not far behind in my thoughts were Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eponymous musical and the words to its signature song.  I think you’ll find that substituting “America” for “Argentina” lends a creepy resonance to the Wolf thesis. 

Don’t Cry for Me Argentina

It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
that I still need your love after all that I’ve done

You won’t believe me
All you will see is a girl you once knew
Although she’s dressed up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you

I had to let it happen, I had to change
Couldn’t stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window, staying out of the sun

So I chose freedom
Running around, trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it to

Chorus:

Don’t cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance

And as for fortune, and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired

They are illusions
They are not the solutions they promised to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me

Don’t cry for me Argentina

(chorus)

Have I said too much?
There’s nothing more I can think of to say to you.
But all you have to do is look at me to know

That every word is true. 

If you have a hankering to sing along, try

 

 

A(nother) Great Leap Forward?

Posted in Architecture, Music & Dance, People & Places, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , , , on August 9, 2008 by Liz Hager

photo ©Emilio Naranja

Like much of the world, I was riveted to the television for 3 1/2 hours last night as the opening ceremonies of the Olympics unfolded. The cynic in me noted the overt propagandistic nature and shear economic cost of the evening. But the artist in me experienced moments of undeniable viewing ecstasy—the lighted batons of 2,008 drummers moving in unison in the dark; the undulating rectangle of character blocks; the tai-chi masters, whose movement from above resembled a swarm of bees; and the pièce—those “lighted dot” suits, flashing together at one point like a giant neon arrow. “This way China!”  It was an evening of Peking opera, Cirque de Soleil, and Jackie Chan all rolled up together. 

As one commentator remarked near the end: “they should retire the trophy for opening ceremonies.” Indeed, I am hard pressed to think how Vancouver or London, next on the list of host cities, will come up with programs that top not only the shock and awe technology on display last night but the colorful, graceful, well-choreographed, and often quite sobering symbolic elements of the program created by Zhang Yimou (pr: john-ee-moe). Nor should they perhaps: the extravaganza was rumored to have cost the government as much as $300 million. 

Not too long into the program, I developed a real fondness for its backdrop, the Bird’s Nest stadium.   We San Franciscans now have automatic affinity with Beijing through our two Herzog and de Meuron buildings; we’re the little guy city in a worldwide club of bigger venues (London, Munich, Beijing) and that’s good for an often-parochial city like ours. Our own de Young Museum is one of the few joyous exceptions in a skyline full of repetitively dull versions of the modernist glass box motif.  I completely understand why the Chinese have latched on so quickly to the Bird’s Nest as their 21st century icon. Nicolai Ouroussoff covers the details of this topic much better than I could in his article this morning in the NY Times. Additionally, Gordon Raynor of the UK Telegraph focuses on the symbolism of the structure very nicely in his 8/7 post “Guide to the Birds Nest.” 

Certainly director Zhang Yimou deserves huge kudos for conceiving and pulling off a spectacular show that had to have included thousands of logistical nightmares. (For starters, think about fashioning and fitting 15,000 costumes.) Obviously, he didn’t do it by himself; the international “concept” team included Steven Spielberg and choreographer Zhang Jigang. But in the end, it was his show. I’m not conversant enough with Zhang Yimou’s films (Judou, Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern) to offer meaningful commentary in that vein about last night’s extravaganza, so I’ve listed some other linkages below. Suffice it to say, he’s a master of visual symbolism.

In the final analysis, though, what better symbol of 21st century China than the army of human performers that were required to execute Zhang’s vision?  Not just marching mind you, but dancing, twirling and running, all in lock-step precision. These perfectly-harnessed masses were a sobering and disquieting reminder of the inherent force of a nation with 1.3 billion people at its disposal.   

In a telling moment, when asked about the huge number of people involved, Zhang is reported to have smiled demurely and said: “Well why not? We have them.”   

And that might just be the real point of last night’s entertainment. 

 Need more?

For those of you who missed the program (or just want to see it again), play the “Opening Ceremony: Sites & Sounds”  at NBC

Zhang Yimou and State Aesthetics

Interview with Zhang

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